All during pre-season and training camp there was a battle on the offensive line for the starting guard positions. Uche Nwaneri, who started all last season at right guard, locked up one of the spots early on in training camp. Former Jaguar Kynan Forney thought to have the lead early on in camp but faded down the stretch and was ultimately released after sitting out the final two pre-season games. The final two games saw a battle between newly acquired Justin Smiley and the veteran Vince Manuwai.
For now, Justin Smiley has emerged the victor at left guard.
In the final pre-season game Manuwai and Smiley both played a good chunk of the game at guard. Manuwai at right, Smiley at left, and both performed just fine. It seems as if the coaching staff decided to stick with Nwaneri at the right guard spot and insert Smiley to the left guard role. Smiley's forte is pulling and pass protection, which is a lot of the responsibility of the left guard.
"At the guard position Uche Nwaneri will start at right guard and Justin Smiley will start at left guard, and Vinny will be here in a support role, backup role, a guy that is very close that’s very close that obviously had started and is very capable of starting but that’s the way we’ll begin the season with those other guys starting and Brad at center," Jack Del Rio told the media yesterday.
I expected Vince Manuwai to get the start with Nwaneri at the left guard postion, but the difference is minimal. Nwaneri is versatile, having the ability to roadgrade at right guard but also posess the ability to pass block and pull from the left guard position. Manuwai is strictly a roadgrader at this point in his career. Like the safety position, it seems as if guard will be fluid if it struggles early on. Despite his salary, Vince Manuwai was not asked to take a pay cut as a back up guard. "I’m blessed to be a part of the team. I’ll prepare like I’m going to start," said Manuwai. This will be the first time at any level Manuwai will not be starting on the offensive line, but with the injury history of someone like Smiley, he's a valuable asset to have in a back up role. He'll be able to come right in and the offensive line shouldn't skip a beat if there is an injury on the interior.