We continue the series of positional reviews as we focus on the Titans' centers.
It's the most important position on the o-line. The center makes the line calls and then starts every play with his snap. A play can't begin without the snap, and if it's a poor one, even the best plays called can't succeed.
Two years ago, the Titans' starting center was a free agent who left the team to join the Carolina Panthers. The money offered by each team was the same, but the opportunity to play for a winner and a playoff contender was greater with Carolina, according to the player. Since then, the Titans have improved their 4-12 record to 8-8 and 10-6 seasons, earning one playoff berth. The Panthers, meanwhile, have regressed, going from 11-5 to 8-8 and then 7-9. How'd that work out for you, Justin?
It did work out well for the Titans, although few thought at the time that having to replace the Titans' best lineman would help the team. If you had told me two years ago that signing an old man to be Tennessee's new center would be a good move, I would have disagreed. Time has proven that I would also have been wrong.
Here's my take on the current centers, as we conclude the positional reviews of the offensive line.
- A six-time Pro Bowler, he's endeared himself to Titans' fans with his style of play. Although he's smaller than all the defensive tackles across the line of scrimmage from him, Mawae doesn't take any crap off anybody. Perhaps even more valuable to the team is his leadership. He seems to have instilled his style of play into the younger linemen, something which should carry over long after he's gone. In particular, I like the way he keeps playing until the whistle, and David Stewart has followed his lead. The influence he has over all the other offensive players, including Vince Young, has not gone unnoticed. As you'd expect from a fourteen-year veteran, he's crafty and probably gets away with a lot that other centers don't. Part of it is from his knowledge of the game, part from his personal first-name relationships with every official in the league, and part of it from getting the benefit of the doubt from the zebras, as befits the status of a veteran star. I've heard other players around the league accuse him of being dirty, but I've never witnessed it. Mawae still has very good athleticism for his age, probably third best on the line behind Loper and Roos. He looks like he still has a few years left in the tank if he can avoid injuries.
- He's been a backup center/guard for four years and earned a two-year contract extension, as I referenced in my positional review of the guards
. Amano had three starts at center last year as Mawae's backup, and is quite capable of replacing him again if necessary. With the anticipated loss of starting guards Benji Olson and Jacob Bell, I fully expect Gene to start at one of the guard spots this year.
- I was surprised when the Titans selected him in the fourth round of last year's draft, and even more surprised when Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said he was rated as the second-best center on the Titans' board. Two other guys were selected in the second round and none in the third, so for Harris to be picked on Day Two in the fourth round made me wonder how much Fisher was stretching the truth and/or how the Titans were lucky enough that Harris fell all the way to them in the fourth round. Like Amano, Harris is also listed as a center/guard and included in my positional review of the guards
. Although o-line coach Mike Munchak worked him at both guard and center last year, there's no doubt Harris is the Titans' center of the future. Munch just likes to work guys at more than one position to make them more versatile, which is probably something he learned in his playing days, and since, from Bruce Matthews.
The present and future both look good at the center position. The Titans have the three types of guys you want. A veteran Pro Bowler is in place, an experienced reserve is available if needed and the guy that Munch and Mawae are grooming is waiting his turn while still learning. There's no need for the Titans to pick up another center in either free agency or the draft.
Next in the series of positional reviews: the quarterbacks.