The position lands on offensive tackle today as we continue to breakdown each and every position heading into training camp and in case you missed any, here are the positions we've already covered including tight ends, wide receivers, running backs, full backs and quarterbacks. Offensive tackles are most commonly thought of as the most critical pieces of a solid offensive line, especially in terms of the passing game. The Cardinals are set as both tackles for 2008 and have several promising prospects waiting in the wings.
Levi Brown: When Whisenhunt and Grimm came to Arizona they made a conscious effort to improve a porous offensive line and the rebuild started with their first draft pick, Levi Brown. The 5th overall pick won the starting job after an injury to Oliver Ross. An ankle injury caused him to miss three games and even though the ankle slowed him for much of the season, he played well. Brown should improve in his second year not only because of the experience that he gained in 2007 but also because the Cardinals should return the entire offensive line intact. Just about anywhere you look someone is projecting Brown to have a breakthrough sophomore season including scout.com and Darren Urban. Being that Brown will protect Leinart's blind side, the better and more consistent he plays the more comfortable Leinart will feel in the pocket.
Mike Gandy: The Cardinals signed Gandy to a three year contract last off season and at the time, he was billed as a versatile lineman (starting experience at right and left guard and left tackle) but certainly nothing to get excited about. He is undersized for a tackle (6'4 310) and his signing with Arizona meant he was playing for his third team in three years, but he by far exceeded expectations. Gandy started all 16 games and while he wasn't specatular, he is technically sound and a very intelligent player. Gandy was also an important veteran voice on an otherwise young and inexperienced offensive line. With Warner starting most of the season, Gandy protected his blind side and allowed Warner and the passing offense to flourish.
Elton Brown: The 'other' Brown is the top backup at both tackles and guard and has started games at multiple positions. Eventually if he's to become a starter it'll probably come at guard but he's got the skills to fill-in at either position. More to come on him when we cover guards.
Brandon Keith: The Cardinals seventh round pick this season is a massive tackle (6'5 343) from Northern Iowa. Even though some scouts project that he'll have to move inside to maximize his potential, he's been taking most of his snaps with the second team at right tackle. He's an intriguing prospect who's got the strength, agility and quickness to be a very good player but only time will tell if he can keep his head wrapped around football. He twice left University of Oklahoma and even though the details of his travels are muddy at best (his story and Stoops greatly differ), it raised red flags prior to the draft, as did an arrest after the 2007 season. Regardless he'll be given every opportunity to make the roster and could end up being Gandy's replacement if he doesn't slide inside to guard. For now he seems to be making the most of his opportunities.
Elliot Vallejo: The UC Davis product spent the 2007 season on the practice squad and he signed a futures contract shortly after the season ended. At 6'7 315, he'll have to add some weight to his frame but he still started 32 straight games in college. He also needs to work to improve his technique, most importantly his foot work and develop a nastier demeanor. He is quick off the snap though and can engulf his opponents when he get his hands on them.
Thaddeus Coleman: Coleman's a very intriguing prospect and I can't wait to see him live and in person during the preseason. He's only played offensive tackle for three seasons and he didn't even have a position coach so he basically had to educate himself and get by on sheer athletic ability. He started college as a tight end and he still needs to fill out his frame (6'8 308), but he was very successful at Mississippi Valley State and improved each season that he was there. It would be nearly impossible for him to make the roster this season but he's a promising prospect and could greatly benefit from a season or two on the practice squad and in a professional weight training program. His greatest benefit though will come from working with Russ Grimm who will love working with such a raw, yet talented project.
Peter Clifford: Another undrafted free agent, Clifford missed time during his senior season at Michigan State with a knee injury and split time between tackle and guard. He was still voted to second team All-Big Ten though and his coaches praised his competitiveness and leadership. They were quick to note that where ever he lined up, he posted the highest grade among his teammates. He's another guy who will benefit from a professional weight training program (20 bench reps) and a year or two of development on the practice squad. His future home could be at either guard or tackle.
It's nice to come into a season with the two most important positions on the offensive line set in stone. There are some question marks concerning the depth behind Levi Brown and Gandy but if they stay healthy, they have the ability to book-end a solid and consistent offensive line. Elton Brown and Brandon Keith will likely end up as the top backups and Vallejo, Coleman and Clifford could all be battling for one or two spots, at the most, on the practice squad. Thoughts? How comfortable are you with Brown and Gandy?
Here's an interesting note from Darren Urban's blog about Levi Brown and the work that he's been putting in this off season. Needless to say it's great to hear that a guy who's so pivotal to the success of the offense isn't resting on his laurels.