Four other lineman join Tyler Polumbus to form a No-Star squad of blockers on the spot this season
JAGUARS QB BLAINE GABBERT
PROTECTED BY RG UCHE NWANERI
The Jaguars ranked dead last in total offense last season, rushing champ Maurice Jones-Drew held out for the entire preseason, and Gabbert still needs to prove himself worthy of the 10th pick in last year's draft. Gabbert was sacked 40 times during his rookie season, and offensive line coach Andy Heck describes pass protection as "something we've been working very hard at to improve." But what the 6'3", 310-pound Nwaneri has been doing for the past five seasons in Jacksonville is jack up defensive linemen in the ground game.
"He plays with good leverage," Heck says. "In the simplest of terms, you want to displace a D-lineman out of his gap or change the line scrimmage even one yard into the defense's territory. To do that, you have to be lower than the other guy and keep your hands inside your framework. Once you get under him, you have to lever him out like you'd jack up a car. Uche is able to play with great knee bend. He gets his hands inside, then uncoils hips and legs and literally levers a defender out of the position he's in."
BILLS QB RYAN FITZPATRICK
PROTECTED BY C ERIC WOOD
After tearing his right ACL in a Week 10 blowout loss at Dallas, the 6'4", 310-pound Wood returns to anchor an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks (23) in the league last season. But don't be fooled: Buffalo missed Wood's savvy pass-protection calls. In the seven games without him, the Bills allowed 13 of their quarterback takedowns. Says offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris, "Eric was doing an excellent job of orchestrating the line until the injury."
Look for the 26-year-old Wood to set the frenetic pace as Buffalo experiments with the no-huddle this season and seeks more consistency from Fitzpatrick, who threw nearly as many interceptions (a league-high 23) as he did touchdowns (24) in 2011. "Just watch Wood for the entire play," D'Alessandris says. "Once he attaches himself to his opponent, he'll do everything in his power to block him. I've watched a lot of centers, and his tenacity to get it done is something impressive. I don't know if there are any true trademarks in blocking except for the effort put into it from the beginning to the end."
PANTHERS QB CAM NEWTON