Offseason changes see varied results in preseason action

By Nick Shook
Around The NFL Writer
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Carson Palmer’s career ended with an interception — and a broken arm.

On the surface, it seemed fitting a team that struggled to protect Palmer would see its starter knocked out for the season when it failed to pick up a blitz. Ironically, though, a running back (Adrian Peterson) missed the block that sent Palmer to the ground, where he suffered the broken arm that ended his final season in the NFL.

No matter the culprit, one of the offseason priorities of the Cardinals was improving the offensive line. A remake of the unit has changed the 2017 Week 7 lineup of D.J. HumphriesAlex BooneA.Q. ShipleyEarl Watford and Jared Veldheer to a new five of Humphries, Mike IupatiMason ColeJustin Pugh and Andre Smith. Continue reading

Break convention in case of emergency: A look at swing linemen

By Nick Shook
Around The NFL Writer
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A great offense begins with a reliable, effective offensive line. That cannot be overstated.

The offensive line serves as the first line of defense, of protection and of action. The front five open holes for running backs, protect a quarterback, provide adequate time for receivers to get open and for passers to deliver the ball on time and on target.

But what about when one of those five is forced off the field by injury? What happens when a once-impassable wall shows a crack?

As it goes in football, next man up. The first sign of weakness is what separates the good from the forgotten. In 2017, we received one of the best examples.

Let’s dive into the unheralded but vital role of the swing lineman: The sixth man who approaches each week ready to contribute, to step up when another goes down, and to contribute in a role that lacks notoriety but becomes just as important when called into action. Continue reading

Joe Thomas: Austin Corbett is a guard, not a tackle

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
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I was wrong.

Last week, in the return (!) of Behind the Offensive Line, we broke down some key offensive line battles across the league. I mentioned how the Browns would approach replacing future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. Being a big believer in guards with potential, I listed No. 33 pick Austin Corbett as a contender for the left tackle position with veteran Shon Coleman.

Then I sat down with Thomas and chatted about his career, offensive line play and the situation at his old post in Cleveland. Continue reading

Behind the O Line: Training camp position battles to watch

By Nick Shook
Around The NFL writer
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Welcome back!

In case you couldn’t tell by the droplets of sweat gathering upon your brow, summer is here. Training camp is merely days away. The dog days of the preseason are near (don’t all groan at once).

More than 2,800 players are going to fight for their football lives in the next month, with some competitions more dire than others. We’re here to preview a handful of position battles up front that will be worth watching across the league. Continue reading

Super Bowl LII comes down to Patriots vs. Eagles’ four

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
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Football is again on its annual grand stage.

Millions around the world will watch the New England Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles, and watch multi-million-dollar commercials in between the action. Long runs, touchdown passes and acrobatic plays await.

Also included are the warriors of the trenches, the big uglies who battle to establish supreme leverage and position. In the game of inches, these increments are often the most important and influential in determining a winner. But rare are the offensive lines — and those who play it — considered sexy enough for spotlight attention during the lead up to the sport’s biggest contest.

Not here.

As we’ve done all season, we not only appreciate but understand and explain what goes on with these large fellas. It’s time again to go Behind The Offensive Line (PRESENTED BY FORD) for a Super Sunday edition. Let’s explore how one offensive line’s group matchup could determine what retailers love to call the Big Game. Continue reading

Interior battle sets up to determine AFC’s champion

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
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Tom Brady is 7-0 versus the Jacksonville Jaguars in playoff games.

But these aren’t your granddaddy’s Jaguars.

Jacksonville brings about as menacing a defense as you’ll see in football, and undoubtedly the one with the largest bite of the four remaining teams. Typically, that wouldn’t mean much to a Brady-led offense, what, with the five Super Bowl rings and Rob Gronkowski and all. But we’ve found some similarities with Brady’s last few servings of Kryptonite. Continue reading

Three trench-related points to watch on Divisional Weekend

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
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The Divisional Round is considered by some (including yours truly) as the best weekend in football. The league’s best teams are all battling for a shot to make the conference championship game and move one step closer to football’s greatest stage.

We find ourselves with a surprising lack of favor for the NFC’s No. 1 seed — but a chance to prove the newfound doubters wrong — and a team replacing an important piece on the interior of its offensive line as it prepares to meet one of the league’s most complete defenses.

Plenty of intrigue awaits. Let’s dive into the best trench-related storylines from this weekend’s playoff games. Continue reading

Three (story)lines to watch during Wild Card Weekend

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
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Playoff time is a wonderful time, even if you’re the team that snuck in by the skin of its teeth and the tripping up of a few contenders. You’re in — it doesn’t matter how you got there.

For the purpose of this space, though, it does matter, because we’re going to examine which teams have the best (or worst) chances based on their offensive line play. For the wild-card round of play, we have evenly matched games, and also ones that beg the question: Can this team’s line do a good enough job to give it a real shot at winning? Continue reading

Counting down the top-three NFL offensive lines of 2017

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
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We brought you the bad news last week. You’re here if you came back around for the good news, and for that, I thank you.

This week is all about those lines who rose to the cream of the crop in 2017. We have two surprise groups, including one that is getting almost no love, despite the great numbers it has posted in run and pass blocking (not to mention the division title of which it was a part of winning). We also have a unit that you’ll probably recognize and chalk up to its running backs — but it’s so much more than just that. Continue reading

Three NFL offensive lines that need offseason upgrades

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
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We’ve spent much of this season taking a week-by-week look at individual offensive lines and their successes, or failures. This week, that changes.

As we enter Week 16 and near the beginning of a new year, it’s time to take a look back on what we’ve learned about offensive lines in 2017. We’ll start with the bad news first this week — three teams that need to address their offensive lines in the offseason — but come back next week for the good news. Continue reading