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By Frank Cooney, Special to USA TODAY
There are some good offensive linemen in this year's draft, but the challenge for NFL teams might be where to play them.

As always, the most prized offensive lineman is the one who can play left tackle, the man who protects the blind side of right-handed quarterbacks, the team's most valuable asset. But of the five tackles projected to be selected in the first round by NFLDraftScout.com, only two seem ready and able to play left tackle immediately. In fact, they are the only reliable left tackle candidates among the top dozen tackles. The others seem better suited for outmuscling defenders from the right side or even moving inside to guard, where there is otherwise only one player projected for the first round. And at center, the top candidate isn't expected to be taken until the second round.

Even the top-rated tackle, Michigan's very talented and experienced Jake Long, is being looked at as a right tackle. That leaves the second- and third-ranked tackles as the best bets in this draft to help quickly at left tackle Boise State's Ryan Clady and Vanderbilt's Chris Williams.

Virginia's huge Branden Albert tops the charts at guard, but he could have used another year in college. Arizona State's Mike Pollak appears to be the best of the centers but isn't likely to hear his name called in Round 1.

A closer look at the top offensive line prospects in the draft:

TACKLES

1. Jake Long, Michigan, 6-7, 313, 1st: Long is a mean, muscular, drive-blocking mauler who can open freeway-type access for running backs. He lacks the quickness and agility to be a consistent pass blocker at the NFL level, so the two-time Big Ten Conference offensive lineman of the year probably projects to right tackle.

LONG SHOT?Michigan product could make run at top overall pick

He plays with a good feel and alertness to what defenses are trying to do. His 37 repetitions on the bench press with 225 pounds were the most of any offensive lineman at the scouting combine.

Long, a take-charge, team-captain type, was the key in a Michigan offense that averaged 373.5 yards a game last season. His lengthy highlight reel from 2007 would show 119 knockdowns and 18 blocks that resulted in touchdowns, and he allowed only one sack (to highly touted Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston). Long allowed two sacks in 40 career starts.

2. *Ryan Clady, Boise State, 6-6, 309, 1st: Thanks to a superb combination of size and athleticism, Clady could play either side of the line and be a tremendous asset as a run and pass blocker. His in-game demeanor is not as nasty as Long's, but he still startles defenders with his explosiveness at the snap and ability to control an entire play with his agility and balance.

He did give up 3½ sacks as a junior last year, but this hardworking team leader is remembered more vividly for those 224 knockdowns he compiled in the last two years, including 32 blocks that resulted in touchdowns.

3. Chris Williams, Vanderbilt, 6-6, 315, 1st: Williams is long, lean and agile. He uses those traits to finesse and frustrate defenders rather than simply destroy them.

At the Senior Bowl workouts, his strengths and shortcomings were obvious when he displayed excellent pass-blocking skills at left tackle but he seemed to lack strength and drive when moved to right tackle or guard. NFL teams think he has extraordinary basics that would be maximized if he added bulk and strength.

In his college career, Williams collected 181 knockdowns with 21 blocks that resulted in touchdowns. He allowed two sacks over a span of 1,558 offensive snaps.

4. Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh, 6-6, 322, 1st: Otah is raw and inconsistent, but many NFL teams think he has tremendous upside. However they were disappointed he was unable to play in the Senior Bowl because of a high ankle sprain, and then his combine performance was below par because of the ankle, which also limited his ability to train.

Nigerian-born, this mountainous mauler was a basketball player until his senior year of high school and is still working hard to learn how to channel his unusual physical gifts. He doesn't have the quick feet to be a consistent pass blocker but is expected to be a considerable force as a right tackle.

In 24 starts for the Panthers, he had 192 knockdown blocks, including 26 that led directly to touchdowns.

5. Gosder Cherilus, Boston College, 6-7, 314, 1st-2nd: This Haitian-born giant plays like a freight train going downhill, which means anything in front of him is in serious trouble. However, his lack of lateral agility and quickness was obvious when he had to play left tackle last season and then again at the Senior Bowl workouts.

He was a right tackle in 37 of his school-record 51 starts, and that's where he was dominant. He graduated last year with a degree in communication and is also a student of football, so Cherilus can be expected to quickly understand team concepts.

In his last two seasons, he had 156 knockdown blocks, with 22 opening the way for touchdowns.

6. *Anthony Collins, Kansas, 6-5, 317, 2nd: Collins played only one year of football in high school, and that was mainly as a defensive end. He has only four years of playing organized football two as a starting offensive tackle and probably should have stayed in school for one more year. But many NFL teams love his upside.

He is a massive man with a great attitude who should be effective despite the lack of great agility, which became apparent when he moved from right tackle to left last year. He'll probably be a right tackle in the NFL.

Collins started 23 of his final 24 games and collected 172 knockdowns and 22 blocks that resulted in touchdowns. But he also gave up 13 sacks.

7. Sam Baker, Southern California, 6-5, 309, 2nd: Although he is a career left tackle, Baker should expect to be moved to right tackle in the NFL to take advantage of his strong punch and drive blocking. That would also help minimize problems with his lack of elite athletic ability.

He did well in Senior Bowl workouts. Baker battled through injuries the last two years to become a three-time All-America first-team selection. He registered 197 knockdowns with 26 blocks that led to touchdowns while allowing only 4½ sacks on his last 889 pass plays.

His father, David, is the commissioner of the Arena Football League.

8. Duane Brown, Virginia Tech, 6-4, 315, 2nd: Brown is an intriguing developmental prospect who has great straight-line speed. He did surprisingly well during East-West workouts, and NFL teams began to pay more attention to him at that time.

Brown began his college career as a tight end before moving to right tackle last year. As a left tackle in 2007, he had 34 knockdown blocks but gave up 8½ of the 54 sacks yielded by the line. Brown did use his good speed to block two kicks.

He needs polish but is likely worth the effort and investment.

9. Carl Nicks, Nebraska, 6-5, 341, 2nd-3rd: Here is a physically imposing player with almost too much size. He will need to keep that, and his lifestyle, under control if he wants somebody to write him big checks.

In 2007, his only season as a Division I starter, Nicks showed surprising mobility to go along with his conspicuous mass at left tackle. Nicks originally signed with New Mexico State but transferred to Hartnell Junior College because of academic problems and became a star there before moving on to play for the Cornhuskers.

However, there are legitimate concerns about his off-field conduct, which was demonstrated this month when Nicks was banned from Nebraska's pro-day workout after being involved in a party that resulted in several tickets being issued by the Lincoln police.

10. John Greco, Toledo, 6-5, 305, 3rd: Greco is slightly reminiscent of former Toledo standout Nick Kaczur, now the starting right tackle for the New England Patriots.

He is not a flashy athlete but is extremely strong and able to control people in a small area. He is at his best as a drive blocker, and his lack of speed and athleticism are exposed if he is forced to block a fast pass rusher.

Greco started 49 consecutive games for the Rockets, including 36 at left tackle. As a left tackle, he delivered 275 knockdowns and 34 that led to touchdowns.

11. Oniel Cousins, Texas-El Paso, 6-4, 308, 3rd: Cousins is a native of Jamaica who began his college career as a defensive tackle and has only two years of experience on the offensive line. He is physically talented but learning the position, which was obvious during the Senior Bowl workouts.

Cousins has flashed the athleticism needed to play on the outside, but early in his career teams might elect to move him inside, where he can use his raw strength to survive while he gets acclimated to the speed of the pro game.

GUARDS

1. *Branden Albert, Virginia, 6-6, 309, 1st: A former basketball player who has played football only since his junior year of high school, Albert has rare quickness for a man of his size.

He has been a standout since his freshman season and started all 36 games for Virginia before entering this year's draft after his junior season. An all-conference selection each of his three seasons, Albert will be graded by some teams as a tackle prospect after faring well at left tackle in two college starts because of an injury to regular starter Eugene Monroe.

During his final two seasons, Albert had 94 knockdowns and touchdown-producing blocks on 21 plays. In his last 25 games he allowed 6½ sacks but no pressures.

2. Roy Schuening, Oregon State, 6-4, 306, 2nd-3rd: Schuening was considered Mr. Consistency at Oregon State, where he set a school record with 50 consecutive starts and was doing very well until the last half of the 2007 season. Against Southern California, he was handled by Sedrick Ellis, who is rated among the top 10 players in this year's draft.

Then Schuening was moved to tackle, where he had considerable trouble keeping up with speedy edge rushers. In Senior Bowl workouts, he again had trouble with quick-footed defenders but showed enough strength and tenacity to impress several scouts.

In his last two seasons, Schuening registered 185 knockdowns and 18 touchdown-resulting blocks.

3. *Chilo Rachal, Southern California, 6-5, 315, 3rd: Rachal is a quick, athletic, aggressive drive blocker with exceptional potential who could have benefited from another year in college. However, his needs are off the field, where his mother was diagnosed with a stomach tumor and was awaiting insurance approval when Rachal had to make the call on whether to play for pay this year. He could have been a very high pick next year.

There are also minor concerns about his health and durability because he missed three games in 2007 with a sprained knee, continuing a trend that goes back to 2004.

In 21 games as a starter, Rachal didn't allow a sack and delivered 155 knockdowns, including 15 blocks that resulted in touchdowns.

4. Mike McGlynn, Pittsburgh, 6-4, 311, 3rd-4th: Versatile and consistent, McGlynn also showed toughness and agility during Senior Bowl workouts.

He started 31 consecutive games at right tackle before shifting to right guard for a while as a senior. He played in 47 college games, posting 319 knockdowns, with 49 resulting in touchdowns.

McGlynn became the first Panthers offensive lineman to receive 90% grades from coaches in four or more games in the same season since former Washington Redskins Hog Mark May captured the Outland Trophy in 1980. The only other Pittsburgh lineman to grade 90% or better in three games during the same season was Bill Fralic the No. 2 overall pick in the 1985 draft by the Atlanta Falcons in 1983. That's pretty good company.

5. Donald Thomas, Connecticut, 6-4, 303, 3rd-4th: Thomas is one of the more intriguing guard prospects in the draft.

His stock soared in 2007, when he finally turned his athletic potential into on-the-field production. A rare athlete for the position, Thomas is well-built and flashes explosiveness and nastiness in his blocking.

His star continued to rise after impressive performances in the Hula Bowl and East-West Shrine Game. Then he did well in the combine, where his marks were well better than average in every event.

CENTERS

1. Mike Pollak, Arizona State, 6-4, 301, 2nd: Although he packs a quick and effective initial punch, Pollak doesn't have the overall strength to outmuscle some of the massive maulers he will face in the NFL. He is a battler who does his best work by finding an angle to wall off a defender. He struggles to reach the second level and was credited with only five downfield blocks in 2007.

In his last two years as a starter, Pollak had 155 knockdown blocks, including 26 that led directly to touchdowns, but he also gave up seven sacks.

2. Steve Justice, Wake Forest, 6-4, 293, 2nd-3rd: Justice relies on finesse rather than force to get the job done and appears to be best suited for a zone-blocking system such as the Denver Broncos use.

He is a dedicated worker on the field and in the film room, making him adept at recognizing defensive ploys and able to make the correct line calls.

He had a solid, but not sensational, week at the Senior Bowl.

3. John Sullivan, Notre Dame, 6-4, 301, 3rd: Like his entire team, Sullivan struggled in 2007, including problems just making the snap, although changes at quarterback didn't help in that regard.

He started 43 games in his career but saw his streak of 31 consecutive starts broken when he injured his knee and missed the final two games last season. He was healthy enough to give a solid performance in Senior Bowl workouts.

Sullivan has used more brain than brawn to get him through his career, and some NFL teams think he has a frame that can hold more mass, and that might improve his draft stock and overall play.

Players' heights and weights are listed; *denotes underclassmen

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Thanks for the excellent and informative post!

I used to play left tackle in high school (in our offense, it was called a "quick tackle". I could outrun the DBs :P), so I know how important it is to get the right guy to protect the QBs blind side. It requires more quickness and finesse than just strength.

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halsey (3/29/2008)
No team would pick Jake Long top 5 if they didn't project him to left tackle. The guy allows only 2 sacks in 2 years and people look to his combine times to say he's a right tackle. Garbage article.

I have seen other sources that are inline with this one.Jakie Dukes said he was a right tackle yesterday.Im more impressed with no penalties than the sacks.The passing of michigan and lack of def talent they faced isnt that impressive but no penalties says a lot about his discipline.It will be very interesting to see where he goes.

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bigduke633 (3/29/2008)
halsey (3/29/2008)
No team would pick Jake Long top 5 if they didn't project him to left tackle. The guy allows only 2 sacks in 2 years and people look to his combine times to say he's a right tackle. Garbage article.

I have seen other sources that are inline with this one.Jakie Dukes said he was a right tackle yesterday.Im more impressed with no penalties than the sacks.The passing of michigan and lack of def talent they faced .

Michigan played Ohio State, Florida, Texas, USC, Oregon and many other programs that put out loads of NFL talent in Long's time. There was no lack of talent. Those of you who think the only talent in college football lies in the SEC don't know what you're talking about. Plenty of NFL players come from outside the SEC. There was not a single SEC player among the top 10 in sacks last year in the NFL.

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halsey (3/29/2008)
bigduke633 (3/29/2008)
halsey (3/29/2008)
No team would pick Jake Long top 5 if they didn't project him to left tackle. The guy allows only 2 sacks in 2 years and people look to his combine times to say he's a right tackle. Garbage article.

I have seen other sources that are inline with this one.Jakie Dukes said he was a right tackle yesterday.Im more impressed with no penalties than the sacks.The passing of michigan and lack of def talent they faced .

Michigan played Ohio State, Florida, Texas, USC, Oregon and many other programs that put out loads of NFL talent in Long's time. There was no lack of talent. Those of you who think the only talent in college football lies in the SEC don't know what you're talking about. Plenty of NFL players come from outside the SEC. There was not a single SEC player among the top 10 in sacks last year in the NFL.

Ohio is where he got beat right?Roberto Garza didnt give up a single sack his senior season.His whole line didnt....he went 4th round.Appalachian state comes to mind.The blocked fieldgoal came from the left side didnt it?Abraham is from the sec.Wasnt Promoteing the sec but hey......ask ohio state.

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bigduke633 (3/29/2008)
halsey (3/29/2008)
bigduke633 (3/29/2008)
halsey (3/29/2008)
No team would pick Jake Long top 5 if they didn't project him to left tackle. The guy allows only 2 sacks in 2 years and people look to his combine times to say he's a right tackle. Garbage article.

I have seen other sources that are inline with this one.Jakie Dukes said he was a right tackle yesterday.Im more impressed with no penalties than the sacks.The passing of michigan and lack of def talent they faced .

Michigan played Ohio State, Florida, Texas, USC, Oregon and many other programs that put out loads of NFL talent in Long's time. There was no lack of talent. Those of you who think the only talent in college football lies in the SEC don't know what you're talking about. Plenty of NFL players come from outside the SEC. There was not a single SEC player among the top 10 in sacks last year in the NFL.

Ohio is where he got beat right?.

1 time in an entire game. A football game is a loto more than 1 play. You want 1 sack in an entire game to overshadow every other play in that game and every other play in every other game. That's where your knowledge is.

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halsey (3/29/2008)
bigduke633 (3/29/2008)
halsey (3/29/2008)
bigduke633 (3/29/2008)
halsey (3/29/2008)
No team would pick Jake Long top 5 if they didn't project him to left tackle. The guy allows only 2 sacks in 2 years and people look to his combine times to say he's a right tackle. Garbage article.

I have seen other sources that are inline with this one.Jakie Dukes said he was a right tackle yesterday.Im more impressed with no penalties than the sacks.The passing of michigan and lack of def talent they faced .

Michigan played Ohio State, Florida, Texas, USC, Oregon and many other programs that put out loads of NFL talent in Long's time. There was no lack of talent. Those of you who think the only talent in college football lies in the SEC don't know what you're talking about. Plenty of NFL players come from outside the SEC. There was not a single SEC player among the top 10 in sacks last year in the NFL.

Ohio is where he got beat right?.

1 time in an entire game. A football game is a loto more than 1 play. You want 1 sack in an entire game to overshadow every other play in that game and every other play in every other game. That's where your knowledge is.

That one sack could be huge and how many pressures.How many times did henne think oh my god there he is again.How many plays did they role away?I like long Im not sure he is all world.I thought we past insullts halsey?

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