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Training Camp | 2023

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Nick at Nite: All it takes is one guy


(Nick at Nite is a weekly column from staff writer Nick Harris, who joined the staff in April 2023. After over four years working in college football recruiting for Rivals and 247Sports, Harris brings a wealth of knowledge from not only the college landscape, but as well as a scouting perspective that translates to covering the NFL.)

OXNARD, Calif. - I've been thinking on this hard over the last 24 hours.

Even with an unproven kicker situation and a running back picture behind Tony Pollard that has been largely unpredictable, the offensive line group is the one that has seen the most active discourse during training camp and even since Zack Martin's arrival. And I'll be the first to tell you that I've been a part of that.

Why is that? If the best five up front are better when together than 90-percent of the league's best five, where is the issue?

It's about preparing for the unexpected.

It's a long season. 17 games and hopefully a lot more. If you can tell me with a straight face that all five guys will play every meaningful snap during the season without suffering one setback, I'd be quick to call you a fool. It just doesn't happen in today's NFL.

Now take into account the personnel. Tyron Smith hasn't played a full season since 2015 and Terence Steele is coming off a major knee injury that sidelined him for the final stretch of last season. Zack Martin, while he has proved to be as durable as they come, is approaching his age-33 season in 2023. It's impossible to think that at least one of those guys doesn't get banged up at some point.

All it takes is one guy.

Why is it a concern? If the time Zack Martin was away from training camp was spent trying to find a potential future replacement up front and/or a reliable depth option in case someone up front goes down, I can't say that that goal was fully accomplished. Sure, it's a process – especially with so many young guys in the room – but when the process has to take sacrifice to necessity, will anyone in the depth of that group be ready to step up to the task?

Let's look at it. I think there are encouraging "processes" at this point.

I want to start with Asim Richards, the rookie fifth round pick out of North Carolina who saw ample reps at both left tackle and left guard during the preseason opener against the Jaguars. Richards' hand ability, developed lower half and experience in college all combine to create a player that has potential to start at either left tackle or left guard one day. My concern is simply hoping that one day is later rather than sooner so that he can fully develop into whichever role (or both) that he fits into.

Another rookie that has taken some by surprise, especially in the last week or so of camp, has been undrafted free agent T.J. Bass out of Oregon. Coming from a program that stresses technique over talent, Bass comes in with experience that rivals some second and third-year linemen with the toolbox that he has to play at guard. In the preseason opener, Bass excelled at right guard with his correct hand placement and quick punch inside to fight off defenders, although it's the strength generated from his lower half that has impressed me the most in Oxnard.

Lastly, I think there's a lot to like from the growth that second-year interior lineman Brock Hoffman has made this offseason. He's stronger, he's more technical, and he's more comfortable commanding his presence up front. In the preseason opener, Hoffman got a healthy dose of work at center and he played a mostly clean game with the opportunities that he had.

Of the three mentioned, I would feel most confident about Hoffman stepping in if something were to happen up front during the season to the interior offensive line, just because his process is further along than the others.

That doesn't even take into account guys like Matt Waletzko, Matt Farniok, Alec Lindstrom and Earl Bostick Jr. who have all had just as equal of an opportunity to make that big splash at camp, even though the splash has felt more like a sprinkle at times.

As I think more on this situation and on if it's necessary to bring a free agent in that can be that reliable depth option, I find myself conflicted.

On one side, I want to just have the Jason Peters type of free agent to walk in the door and provide immediate help, but on the other side I want to see the process get lived out with a guy that's already in the building.

I will say what I'm rooting for, though. I'm rooting for the latter. I'm rooting for someone not named Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin or Terence Steele to take command of the depth by the end of the preseason to provide a comfortable safety net going into the season.

In the end, all it takes is one guy.

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