Mike Munchak says he has seen things go really bad when a team absorbs enough injuries at one position, as the Tennessee Titans have on the offensive line.
Early in the second quarter of Monday’s 14-10 victory over the New York Jets, though, running back Chris Johnson came out from behind the latest configuration of blockers and saw nothing but running room. The result was the longest run a franchise history — 94 yards for a touchdown.
“Kyle DeVan got on his man and I came right behind him,” Johnson said. “Once I jumped through the line, I seen nothing but daylight. From there, it was just hitting it.”
Before the end of the first quarter DeVan became the latest Titans offensive lineman pressed into service because of an injury to another. This time it was a sprained ankle to Kevin Matthews, who was in the lineup only because Steve Hutchinson was out with a knee injury.
It is likely the Titans will stay with DeVan — or at least will plan to — for the final two weeks of the season, which will make him the ninth different offensive lineman to start this season. The same five played each of the first seven games but three different combinations have been used over the last seven with another on tap Sunday when Tennessee plays at Green Bay (noon, CBS).
Matthews has been diagnosed with a high ankle sprain and already has been ruled out of the remaining contests. Prior to Monday, four of the five expected to start this season were on injured reserve.
“For whatever reason this year we just can’t keep the group healthy,” Munchak said Tuesday. “Kyle DeVan … did a really nice job for a guy that hasn’t played in a while. … He went in and did a pretty good job for us.”
Whether DeVan, who has signed and re-signed with the Titans five times but has appeared in just two games, remains at center or switches to guard remains to be determined. The fourth-year veteran started 25 games for Indianapolis and Philadelphia from 2009-11 — all of them at one of the two guard spots.
Fernando Velasco moved from center to guard when Matthews was added to the lineup and could go back there now.
“Now that we know Kevin’s definitely not going to be available, we’re not sure exactly what we’re going to do there yet,” Munchak said. “Looking at who we’re playing against the next couple weeks, because now it’s a two-week move just like it was to move Fernando out of there once we knew it was going to be long-term.”
A year ago the same five offensive linemen started 15 of 16 games, and those same five started 12 of 16 in 2010.
Tennessee allowed just 24 sacks in 2011, tied for second-fewest in the league, last season. Already this season, quarterbacks Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck have gone down a combined 30 times, 11 in the last three games.
Things could be much worse, though.
Johnson’s dash on the second play after DeVan replaced Matthews was one of two Titans’ touchdown runs and contributed heavily to their 167 yards rushing. The offense had gone three straight games without any rushing touchdowns and only one other time this season (Oct. 21 at Buffalo) had it produced more than one in a game.
Things were not quite as smooth in the passing game.
Locker was sacked four times against just 22 pass attempts but scored the game-winning touchdown on a 13-yard run late in the third quarter. He completed three of four passes for 46 yards and three first downs on that drive.
“When these things happen — unfortunately, we’re having a run on injuries on the offensive line — it’s hard to find help and believe me it can be ugly,” Munchak said. “I’ve watched a lot of tape of teams that have lost players and it really can shut everything down completely. It’s a credit to Bruce and the guys as to how their handling this adjustment. … It’s not easy to do and still survive to where your quarterback is still standing.”