Back when Andrew took a look at the centers in the 2010 preseason, he wrote that he expected the Titans to improve by subtraction, as Kevin Mawae hadn't really deserved his 2009 Pro Bowl trip and the Titans seemed to have a good replacement in the wings. Then came the 2010 season, and the Titans had just as much trouble running up the middle as they had in 2009 and, oh, also started three different players at center. What happened, why, and will things be any different in 2011?
The man who started the majority of games in the middle as Mawae's replacement was Eugene Amano, who made the move over from the left guard spot he played in 2008 and 2009. Like Andrew, I had high hopes for Amano. He was only a fair guard, but I thought he played very well filling in for Mawae at the end of the 2007 season and I'd been particularly impressed at how he handled massive Chargers NT Jamal Williams in the playoff game.
Unfortunately, Amano, it's fair to say, didn't have a great year at center. Though he was stronger than Mawae and was blown clear into the backfield less frequently, he still was sometimes moved back and even when he stood his ground, he wasn't as much of a drive-blocker as I thought he could be. His season ended after 13 games, as he was placed on IR after suffering from neck stingers. Obviously any neck injury is a potentially serious concern, but given the way the season was going, I think the move was as much precautionary and designed to preserve him for the future as anything else.
Next into the lineup came Fernando Velasco. He was active for all 16 games and made three starts, one of those at guard. I thought he played decently filling in for Amano at center, and expect him to remain the primary backup interior lineman in 2011.
The final start of the year at center, against the Colts in Week 17, went to Kevin Matthews. The son of Oilers/Titans legend and new offensive line coach Bruce, he spent most of the year on the Titans practice squad after failing to make the team out of training camp as an undrafted free agent, but was elevated to the active roster when Amano was placed on injured reserve. Frankly, against the Colts, I thought Matthews looked and played like an undrafted free agent, but unless the Titans decide to do some serious juggling, he's a longshot to make the active roster again.
So, can we should we expect in 2011? I think some serious juggling is possible, and I'll talk more about that in the guards positional analysis I'll get up in the next couple days. I expect Amano or Velasco to start at center, most likely Amano, but the offensive line was Munchak's position and we'll see what if there's anything he wanted to do that Fisher didn't.
One thing I've written about on here before is the Titans, at least during the Floyd Reese era, seemed to go back and forth between cheap low-round draft pick centers when the rest of the line was experienced and savvy veterans when the rest of the line was less experienced or less stable. The deal the Titans gave Amano before last season was neither of those-it was a large financial commitment to a veteran on a line with three experienced players on it. GM Mike Reinfeldt was part of a Seahawks brain trust that drafted center Chris Spencer in the first round a couple years ago, so apparently center is less of an afterthought than it used to be. Pity Spencer hasn't turned out the way the Seahawks wanted him to, though though at least he has the excuse of injuries to derail his career. Amano, though, simply needs to be part of a more effective run blocking unit.