The Globe's Mike Reiss shifts his concern from the defensive backfield to the offensive line.
There have been some "stop-the-bleeding" signings up front in the last couple of days. In addition to first-year free agent Pete McMahon, two long in the tooth vets were brought in. McMahon, who played his college ball in Iowa under the tutelage of Kirk Ferentz and OC Ken O'Keefe, was drafted in 2005 by the Raiders, but has never played a down in anger and was out of the game completely for the last two seasons.
Joining him are Barry Stokes and John Welbourn. You can read Reiss' article here, and I'll leave it for him to put this in perspective. Needless to say, this kind of juggling on the front does not bode well for the early season. With Matt Light out this entire time and perennial back-ups O'Callaghan and Oliver Ross recently joining him, things are even more uncertain than I thought them to be earlier. Here's a run-down on Stokes and Welbourn:
Stokes , 34 years old, is the consummate jouneyman -- emphasis on "journey." It's no mean feat to play football for that long, but with stops at five different teams (including NFL-Europe's Claymores and the Lions on 3 separate occasions), you're solidly in the "average to serviceable" category. Stokes hails from Flint, Michigan and spent 3 stints with his hometown Lions. The guy seems to be a pretty good citizen, creating the Barry Stokes Foundation in that state and garnering some local recognition for it.
His career seemed to peak over the 2002 and 2003 seasons when he started in 16 and 13 games respectively for the Browns, playing in both left side spots. He missed an entire year with the Giants due to injury. As he's gotten older, he's been moved to the right, playing both guard and tackle. His career reflects that of a player on the cusp--not necessarily a liability but, for some reason, the kind of guy coaches are looking to upgrade when they can. We pick him up as a Jets retread, released by them in March.
If there's a silver lining here, it would be that the teams he's played for (most notably Miami, Detroit, Oakland) aren't necessarily known for developing linemen -- particularly during his years in town. He figures to be a decent run-blocker once he picks up the scheme. But his failure to stick anywhere does not bode overly well. He seems to be well-liked around the league, but a 34 year old 310 pound guy with a history of back and leg injuries is not going to pop out of the gate like he used to do.
John Welbourn is a couple of years younger than Stokes, and at least at one time was a solid second-rank NFL lineman. Drafted out of Cal in 1999 by the Eagles, he missed much of his first year with an injury. After that, however, he was a solid starter for them until being traded to Kansas City in 2003, who thought highly enough of him to give up a 2nd- and a 4th-round draft pick. He started at RT for the Chiefs for three seasons and at RG for all of 2007.
Looks rosy, right? Not so fast. Welbourn would have cost the Chiefs $2M this year, a contract he was under-performing in '07. He served 2 suspensions for violating the league's steroid policy, one in '05 and one in '06. He "retired" for the '06 benching but made a comeback -- sort of. Definitely in his twilight years at the start of the season last year, the poor performance of the Chiefs right side over the course of the year earned him a ticket out. Our friends at Arrowhead Pride labeled that line "the worst in franchise history."
These guys are bodies -- depth at best, and not too deep at that.
Right now, the right side of the line is Wesley Britt and Billy Yates, with a somewhat healthy Kaczur bumped to LT in Light's absence. Britt and Yates have the advantage of being "system guys," raised from NFL infancy by Dante Scarnecchia. This is a good thing -- relatively speaking. Yates in particular has seen some time on the field in important games. As Reiss observes, now isn't the time for panic. Yet. But it is certainly time for concern.
As I mentioned in my earlier discussion about the o-line, cohesion and mutual anticipation are key attributes of a successful line, and those are things that can only be built through reps. Good thing there's still a month to go.