In Dr. Jene Bremel's Wednesday Injury Report (a must read for any football fan), the position group with the most injuries is the offensive line. The big guys are getting banged up at a furious rate this season. But it's not all blood and gore. Several teams have key starters returning to health. Here's all the Week 4 #offensiveline news, good, bad and ugly.
Admittedly, this ranking would represent a best-case scenario. Left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Zach Strief have both made the long flight to London prior to this week's contest against the Miami Dolphins. Both players were limited during practice on Wednesday. Armstead suffered a torn labrum in June and this is his first official practice activity since the injury. Strief is an offensive captain recovering from a knee injury. It's a high profile (and winnable) game in a foreign country and will dominate the Sunday morning attention back on the East coast. Assuming both starters play, Andrus Peat goes back to guard, Senio Kelemete and rookie Ryan Ramcyzk go to the bench and the Saints' line shoots back to the top tier.
Left guard Cody Whitehair has been dominant in run blocking in recent weeks. Whitehair is putting together a Pro Bowl level year. He plays better at left guard than at center, and he might have to play there in the near future as Hroniss Grasu broke his hand in last week's overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Right guard Josh Sitton missed the contest but Kyle Long was able to return to the lineup and play effectively. Left tackle Charles Leno has been strong in run blocking. Overall this Bears' line has earned it's top-tier rankings, and they have the potential to rise higher once Sitton returns to health.
This upgrade is based on the improved individual play on the left side, where tackle Reily Reiff and guard Nick Easton have been crushing defenders. It's been a quick rise for the Vikings' offensive line, who started the season in the low tier, and by week four have found themselves just inside the velvet rope for the top-tier. After a rough preseason, the line has pulled together and while other teams are suffering injuries, they have remained healthy. The Vikings' offensive line currently grade out among the better in the league.
Right tackle Joe Barksdale was a full participant in Thursday's padded practice. Assuming Barksdale returns (putting Chris Hairston to the bench), the Chargers' offensive line grades out as a low-tier option but trending upward almost to the mid-tier.
The Steelers' offensive line is getting banged up. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert missed the game against Chicago and he was replaced by Chris Hubbard. Left guard Ramon Foster broke his thumb and has not been seen in practice this week. B.J. Finney replaced Foster. Both Hubbard and Finney were able to be compromised by the Bears' pass rush. The Steelers' remain a top-tier line but need to get healthy to maintain that ranking.
Center Ryan Kalil has missed the last two contests with a neck injury. Tyler Larsen (formerly of Utah State) has been doing a surprisingly decent job in place of Kalil, but there is a drop-off in talent level, and even more worrisome, in familiarity with blocking schemes and the playbook. The guards in Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner have stepped up their games but this line is better with both Kalil brothers in the lineup. The Panthers' offensive line grade out as a mid-tier unit.
Right tackle Marcus Cannon is dealing with both a concussion and an ankle injury. LaAdrian Waddle started at right tackle last week against Houston, and both he and Nate Solder had tough moments in pass protection. Cannon is a road grader run blocker and it's not surprising that the Patriots' were stymied on short yardage without their largest lineman. The Patriots' grade out as a mid-tier unit without their starting right tackle.
Center John Sullivan suffered a groin injury in last Thursday's victory over San Francisco and was replaced by Austin Blythe. Blythe played 36 snaps and was awarded the game ball for his efforts. It will be interesting to see if Blythe can keep up his level of play once other teams are game planning for his presence. The Rams' offensive line remains a mid-tier unit. They could rise if Blythe proves me wrong and plays well. In that case, he could even win the job from Sullivan outright. Teams are always looking for a younger option.
The woes for the Cardinals' offensive line continue, as left guard Mike Iupati needs surgery on a bone spur in his elbow. Iupati is likely to go to injured reserve, with an eight week recovery time table. In Week 3, guard Alex Boone suffered a pectoral injury and will likely miss a month. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries is questionable. John Wetzel missed last weeks game but could make a late recovery before this week's. Other options include Will Holden, Vinston Painter and Daniel Munyer.
|7||NO||27||20||30.03||B+||B+||B+||Assuming LT Armstead and RT Streif play.|
|8||ATL||8||0||29.43||B+||B+||A||RT Schraeder (Sambrailo).|
|9||PIT||4||-5||29.4||B+||B+||B+||RT Gilbert (Hubbard) & LG Foster (Finney).|
|10||CHI||15||5||29.15||B+||A-||B||RG Sitton (Long). Whitehair upgraded.|
|11||MIN||18||7||29.1||B+||B+||B+||LT Reiff and LG Easton upgraded.|
|14||BUF||13||-1||28.85||B||B+||B-||LT Glenn (Dawkins).|
|16||NE||9||-7||28.65||B||B||B||RT Cannon (Waddle)|
|17||CAR||10||-7||28.6||B||B+||B-||C Kalil (Larsen)|
|20||KC||24||4||28.53||B-||B||C+||C Mitch Morse (Fulton).|
|21||LAC||26||5||28.4||B-||C+||B||RT Barksdale (Hairston).|
|25||HOU||22||-3||28.1||C+||B-||C||LT Brown holding out.|
|26||NYG||25||-1||27.98||C||C||C||RT Hart (Pugh). Jones for Pugh at LG.|
|27||AZ||23||-4||27.95||C||C||C-||LG Iupati & LB Boone (Holden, Munyer).|
|29||GB||29||0||27.6||C-||C-||C-||LT Bakhtiari (Murphy). RT Bulaga (McCray).|
|30||NYJ||30||0||27.6||C-||C-||C-||RG Winters (Dozier).|
If there are any questions about a team or lineman not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me via Twitter.