Titans offensive line turning Kerry Collins into a statue

Kerry Collins started 15 games at quarterback for the Tennessee Titans this season and was sacked just eight times. During the last season when he was a full-time starter, at Oakland in 2005, a thoroughly beaten and bruised Collins was taken down 39 times.

And no, Collins readily admits, the difference isn't that his legs suddenly have developed another gear at the age of 36.

"I'm very appreciative of my offensive linemen," Collins says. "I haven't done a lot of running around, so they've done a good job of keeping me clean all year."

Collins recently showed his appreciation by giving each of the offensive line's starters an all-terrain vehicle, with a camouflage paint job. If Tennessee can survive Saturday's divisional playoff against Baltimore and go on to win Super Bowl rings, that unit no doubt will play a major role.

Center Kevin Mawae and tackle Michael Roos are headed to the Pro Bowl for a line that allowed only 12 sacks overall, tied with Denver for best in the NFL. The Tennessee crew also led the way for a rushing attack that ranked seventh in the league.

But for all the dirty work the line does in the trenches, it also has a goofy side. It's portrayed by their unsung hero, someone who hasn't played a single down, and who, for the moment, weighs in at just 161 pounds.

That would be "Brian Pride," the name the linemen have given to an ever-growing ball of adhesive tape that they started making early in the season. Brian has his own locker among those of his fellow linemen, with a double-zero on his name plate, and he's part of a weekly ritual.

"He is officially on the weigh-in chart," backup tackle Daniel Loper says. "He rolls in like everyone else on Thursday morning, before breakfast of course."

Loper got the ball going, and in some weeks it has grown by 15 pounds as Brian has taken on the same kind of identity that the "Wilson" ball had in Cast Away.

"Exactly," Loper says of the Wilson comparison. "Only if he got lost I'd cry a lot more than Tom Hanks did."

The goal is to get Brian up to at least 200 pounds this season, which would mean having to stay alive in the playoffs. For Tennessee's offensive line, the biggest question against Baltimore will be the injured right elbow Mawae uses when snapping the ball.

The 15-year veteran is listed as day-to-day by the team, but in a Tuesday interview with Sirius NFL Radio, Mawae said he doubted he would be ready to face Baltimore. Mawae would be replaced by second-year backup Leroy Harris, who has started only one game.

"For someone like Kevin, if he can come out here on Friday, he'll be fine," offensive line coach Mike Munchak says. "Everyone needs (practice), but he needs less."

Munchak, a Hall of Famer, says Tennessee's first meeting with the Ravens, a 13-10 comeback victory at Baltimore, had a lot to do with forging the line's identity and confidence.

"We didn't do much, and they didn't do much," Munchak says "We were on the road and Kerry struggled, but we found a way to win. Walking off, that's a game you're really glad you won."

The two members of Tennessee's line whose reputations are growing the fastest are fifth-year tackles Roos and David Stewart.

Stewart, known as "Big Country," says little and probably has been in the middle of more on-field shoving matches than any other Titan.

"He's probably our most-fined guy," Munchak says. "He's the guy who gets the letters from FedEx every week, but he's not a dirty player. ... People just don't like that push and that shove, the way he finishes all the blocks. "

Stewart also is known for pulling opposing players off of pileups on Titans, and Munchak calls him a "semi-enforcer."

Munchak says Roos, who was born in Estonia, may be capable of stringing Pro Bowl seasons together the way that former Titan Bruce Matthews, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, once did.

"I think he's capable of it," Munchak says. "He's a smart player. He gets it quick. He's a natural leader. He could be around here a long time."

One of the first challenges the line faced was when Collins, strictly a pocket-passer, replaced the scrambling Vince Young in Week 2. Munchak says the fundamentals of pass protection remained largely the same, and Roos says there actually are some advantages to having a slow-footed quarterback who doesn't run.

"With Kerry, on every single dropback," Roos says, "you know exactly where he's going to be."

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