Keep an eye on these offensive linemen who may deserve Pro Bowl shots

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Duane Brown (right) makes life much easier for Arian Foster (left). (US Presswire)  
Duane Brown (right) makes life much easier for Arian Foster (left). (US Presswire)  

Offensive linemen may be the smartest guys on the field. I know their average Wonderlic scores are usually better than most, if not all, positions. They work as a five-men team and don't play positions where statistics jump out at you.

Consequently they are largely ignored, and it seems to me the right guys are too often left out of Pro Bowl consideration in favor of guys with bigger names.

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I just wrapped up my summer camp tour, as well as watching many preseason games. There are a number of offensive linemen who never have been elected to a Pro Bowl but deserve some recognition this season. The coaches and opposing players know they are very good players but it's time to open some eyes to the men in the trenches.

So, before the season even starts, I thought I would give you my short list of guys I'm watching.

As you view regular-season games, keep an eye on these linemen and judge if they are Pro Bowl-caliber players. I'm hopeful that a few of these fourteen linemen will receive the invite they deserve. How do you see the list?

Tackles

1. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals: Whitworth is long overdue. A number of line coaches told me they would take him over D'Brickashaw Ferguson as a pass blocker as well as run blocker. Not many teams run the ball to their left as much as the Bengals do == and Whitworth is the point of attack. When it comes to pass blocking, he rarely gets any help from a tight end or running back. He's a team leader and a very unselfish player.

2. Duane Brown, Houston Texans: Here's another team that had more than 200 running plays to the left in 2011. Brown can handle the point of attack in the Texans zone-run scheme. He is left alone in pass blocking and knows he'll get no help this year with newcomers on the right side of the offensive line. He is solid in space on the screen game and leads his line by example. The Texans know his true value and that's why they rewarded him with a big contract.

3. Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks: Injuries are the main issue for this young player. When healthy he demonstrates why he was a first-round pick. If he stays on the field for 16 games, the truth will come out about this athletic pass blocking left tackle.

4. Eric Winston, Kansas City Chiefs: Right tackles have a hard time making Pro Bowls. They have even a harder time if they are released by their club and have to go elsewhere. Study the tapes of Winston and you will see a big reason the Texans' running game was so successful last year. His peers recognize his Pro Bowl talent -- but the vast majority of voters have not caught up.

5. Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders should have never fired line coach Bob Wylie, who did a fine job of developing Veldheer. He has come a long way from a small-college player to a Pro Bowl candidate, and his future is very bright. He may be more than a year away from being recognized as a top tackle but he's on course for sure.

Guards

1. Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs: Asamoah is a tough, athletic guard who gave up three sacks last year but generally is a very solid pass blocker. His reputation is building as a physical run blocker at the line of scrimmage and when he reaches the linebacker level.

2. Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles: Mathis didn't give up a sack last year and can play multiple positions. After bouncing around from Carolina, Miami and Cincinnati, he found a home in Philadelphia. Mathis has been described to me as an unsung hero of the Eagles' offensive line.

3. Adam Snyder, Arizona Cardinals: The 49ers may regret the day they let Snyder go in free agency this past year. He has power zone run-blocking skills, he can pull in the angle blocking schemes and he can handle inside power rushers. It's too bad the Cardinals offensive tackle situation is so questionable, because Snyder's work may be obscured in the mess.

4. Willie Colon, Pittsburgh Steelers: It's about time the Steelers moved their former right tackle to left guard. Willie needs to stay healthy, something he hasn't done the past two years. The Steelers are re-establishing the run mentality and Colon will be seen pulling as Alan Fanaca did for so many years, leading the power play to the right. When he down blocks on a nose tackle, he gets movement, and when he pass sets the rusher doesn't get any movement.

5. Harvey Dahl, St. Louis Rams: The guy plays with great passion and wants to finish every block with a de-cleat of the defensive lineman. He has gone out to right tackle when asked to and has more than survived. The Rams running game goes right behind him with Steven Jackson. The Falcons' offensive line hasn't been the same since he left in free agency.

6. Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers: Ask Packers fans who their favorite offensive lineman is and most say Josh Sitton. The Packer Backers know their linemen and place great value in Sitton, a guy every line coach would love to have. If the Packers ran the ball more, everyone would know this young player.

Centers

1. Kyle Cook, Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive line coach Paul Alexander knew he found a very good player when the undrafted rookie free agent was signed from Michigan State in 2008. Four years and 48 starts later, Cook has given up one sack every 12 games.

2. Brad Meester, Jacksonville Jaguars: Meester has been a Jaguar since 2000 and he's started 177 games. He hasn't missed a start the past three seasons and he leads an offensive line that carves out a path for Maurice Jones-Drew to follow. As a pass blocker he has given up seven sacks in his past 69 starts with multiple quarterbacks under center. It's hard to be recognized in Jacksonville but he deserves a good long look.

3. Stefen Wisniewski, Oakland Raiders: The former Penn State player was a guard in 2011 and is now the starting center. He may be a year or two away from national recognition but has the makings of an All-Pro. As a rookie starting guard for 16 games he gave up one sack and got the job done as a run blocker.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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