Training Camp Battles: Left Tackle's Khalif Barnes versus Richard Collier
In this week's incarnation of Training Camp Battles, Collin and I attack the most important position on the Offensive Line, the Left Tackle. Khalif Barnes was the Jaguars second round pick in the 2005 draft. Barnes was projected as a first round talent that fell to the Jaguars in the 2nd round. Pro Football Reference lists Barnes as one of the best Jaguars draft picks of all time , and he offsets the failure of Matt Jones as an early draft pick. Barnes is not without his share of trouble however, his incident with the Jacksonville Sherrifs Department is one of the ugliest to face the franchise. Of course, there was also the incident about his crashing a car into a tree, reporting it stolen, and then changing his story, but that's aside from the point.
One of the under-reported aspects of the Barnes DUI was that it forced the Jaguars to release Khalif's friend from the University of Washington, Rich Alexis, so they could sign another left tackle from the practice squad. Now, I'm tainting the Head-to-Head analysis by adding in all these off the field problems.
Of course, Richard Collier isn't completely clean either, he was arrested and pleaded no-contest to a DUI charge in 2007.
Moving back to the on the field performances, there's a big difference between the two players. Barnes is a top of the draft prospect that's been frustrating enough to Jack Del Rio to be deactivated at times last season. Richard Collier is an undrafted free agent from Valdosta State University, a small school just north of the Florida-Georgia Border. Physically, they are a bit different. Barnes is 6-5, 325, whereas Collier is a taller but seems thinner 607, 345. Barnes, is quicker on his feet, which is critical when facing the ultra-fast defensive ends of the AFC South, but Collier seems to have more physical power in manhandling the ends.
Jack Del Rio has made Collier the de facto starter during OTA's and Minicamp, creating a competition during camp that is one of the most important battles of the whole offseason. We're talking about the left tackle position, one that is considered the most critical on the offense after the quarterback, and one of the most highly paid. Barnes is in a contract year while Collier just signed an extension.
Let's get into the head to head. Collin will start us off defending Khalif Barnes as the opening day starter, I will close us up with my defense of Richard Collier as the new Jaguars left tackle. Then you, the reader, will decide (either through persuasiveness of arguement or your opinion of the player) in our poll who should be the starter. I'm sure Jack Del Rio will decide based on our results.
Defending the Incumbent: Khalif Barnes
I’ve been the first to be critical of Khalif for his behavior and have really had my doubts about his character. Recently though, it appears as though Khalif has been on a PR campaign of sorts. He’s doing all the little things right, charity work, making donations, and spending extra time with fans. Barnes has been staying to sign extra autographs and generally chat it up with those who attend the public practices. It’s a contract year for Khalif Barnes and he clearly wants to stay in Jacksonville. The issue is three-fold for our friend KB. Don’t get hurt all year long because you’re not getting an extension before the season is over. Don’t get arrested because if you aren’t cut on the spot, you won’t get an extension. Finally, don’t lose you’re spot to Collier because he’s going to be cheaper and you won’t get an extension.
All that being said, Barnes’ ability on the field is unquestioned. He has been a stalwart left tackle during his entire tenure with the team and is known for his ferocious and physical playing style. His mauler mentality goes beyond what’s normally expected for a left tackle, which further compliments the Jags grinding style of offense.
Khalif’s got the size (6-5 325lbs), speed (4.85 40yd), and youth (26yrs) to play well. He hasn’t been hurt badly except for a wrist injury in college, and has solid footwork. Competition separates the wheat from the chaff and the lack of it may have led to Khalif slacking off a bit.
Suddenly it seems Khalif senses his position in jeopardy and will defend it accordingly. Collier has been named the “starter” after the first mini-camp, but that is nothing more than a tool to motivate Barnes. He’s got to start to earn a big contract somewhere next year because no team wants to pay a back-up starter’s money. He knows this and will be back after the break in beastly form.
Collier has been like a sponge soaking up everything the coaches throw his way. He’s developed at a faster rate as a result of this determination. The team is obviously very impressed with Collier and gave him the nod to boost his morale as much as challenge Khalif. The left tackle position requires extremely quick feet due to the fact that a defense’s best rushing end is typically stationed there. This makes the position slightly more demanding than right tackle because the QB’s blind side must be protected. The fact the Collier is being considered for the position speaks volumes to how vast his improvement has been. This is going to be a fun one to watch!
Khalif Barnes is working on his image; if he can stay out of trouble then I’m willing to give him another chance. The NFL’s new policy to fine a team based on something a player does now makes character an even bigger issue for a front office to consider. Barnes should win the spot soundly come training camp. He’s got his head in the right place and his experience and ability should be able to overcome Collier’s surge.
Defending the Upstart: Richard Collier
The Left Tackle position is the most important on the line. This position usually defends the quarterback from the best pass rusher the defense can throw, so having a consistant player is critical. There's little room for error when you've got Mario Williams and Dwight Freeney heading at you down after down.
With the importance of the Left Tackle, it's obvious that the Jaguars do not see Barnes as the long term solution at his position. The Left Tackle is typically the highest paid position on the line, were the Jaguars to want to secure Barnes for the long haul, they certainly wouldn't wait until after the season when his contract expires. Barnes, whether he deserves it or not, has vocalized his dissatisfaction with being in Jacksonvile, and were he to be in the teams plans, he'd be resigned.
Seriously, why would the Jaguars wait until he's an unrestricted free agent to extend his contract. The cost would increase by a large margin and he'd more than likely be lost to another team. Frankly, no team in the NFL would let their starting left tackle hit the free agent market unless they thought he wasn't the answer at the postion. In this case, the Jaguars have a bigger, stronger, and in this case, better suited player at the position. While Collier lacks the draft selection of Barnes, he's shown the Jaguars that he is a legitimate contender at the position.
Sure, Barnes has more experience at left tackle, but since the Jaguars have clearly given up on him as a long term fixture at the position, they should put Collier in the starting spot and use Barnes as a backup. Should Richard fail, they've got a solid backup, but it's better to give Richard the safety net of Barnes this season rather than leave him high and dry next year. Yes, despite all the hype of the 2008 Jacksonville Jaguars, we have to consider the state of the 2009 and beyond Jaguars, and Collier is clearly the starter of the future. Should he prove his worth in Training Camp, he should be the starter, no matter what.
It's all a matter of keeping an eye on the future. The Jaguars offensive line is deep enough where starting Richard should work well enough for the team to excell. While there may be a drop off in performance, the mobility of Garrard combined with the rest of the line should compensate. Collier will only improve as a player as time goes on, and the more games he gets now, the better he'll be in a playoffs type situation in January.