NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Usually when a running back makes NFL history the way Chris Johnson did for the Tennessee Titans last season, his blockers get some attention.
Sure, left tackle Michael Roos and center Kevin Mawae were first alternates in Pro Bowl voting, and Mawae did get to the game after someone withdrew. But that was it.
Now Johnson is back looking to become the first player in the NFL to string together 2,000-yard seasons, and the line in front of him is a little bit different. The Titans chose to go a bit younger and more athletic by not bringing back the veteran Mawae for another season.
Instead, Eugene Amano has moved over from left guard to center with Leroy Harris finally moving into the starting lineup.
"We know for the most part as the offensive line goes, the offense goes,'' Roos said. "It's up to us to set the tempo and making sure we're working hard and everyone else can feed off that. If we're doing well in the game, that generally means the offense is doing well.''
The Titans prefer continuity and stability on the offensive line. Position coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Famer himself as a player, has coached the unit since 1997. The Titans have blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher each season since, and they produced the NFL's second-best rushing offense while ranking second in sacks allowed with 15.
They allowed the fewest sacks allowed among teams averaging 5 yards per rush since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Johnson also set an NFL record as the first player to reach 2,500 yards from scrimmage.
Mawae had been the Titans' starting center the past four seasons. His contract ended after the 2009 season, and the Titans felt Harris, bigger at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, needed to start going into his fourth season. They had drafted him in the fourth round coming out of N.C. State.
So Amano slid back to center where he played in college at Southeast Missouri State, and Harris stepped in at right guard.
Mawae, also president of the NFL Players Association, remains in Tennessee waiting for a phone call. He told The Tennessean earlier this month coach Jeff Fisher had promised him a roster spot, but Fisher has said they want to give Munchak time to develop their younger linemen this preseason.
"Kevin is as athletic as there is at center,'' Fisher said. "He's always been that way, and he still is. Leroy's heavier, he's got exceptional lower body strength and quickness so that makes us pretty stout inside.''
The Titans still have plenty of experience. Only Detroit's Jeff Backus (144) and David Diel (112) of the Giants have started more consecutive games at tackle in the NFL than Roos with his 80, and right guard Jake Scott ranks fifth among all guards with his streak of 88 straight starts.
Scott thinks the revised line is settling in well with three preseason games left, including Monday night's preseason home opener against Arizona (1-0). As for not having Mawae around?
"It's a management decision. We'll live with it and play with the guys here. We all believe in each other and know we have five guys capable of being great players in the NFL,'' Scott said.
This is a much younger line with Mawae, who turned 39 in January.
Scott and Amano are going into their seventh seasons as the new veterans of this group. Harris is the youngest, while Roos and right tackle David Stewart both are going into their sixth NFL seasons after being drafted together in 2005.
Amano thinks he's at the position that fits him best in the NFL and now he gets his chance to prove that. Harris, who's smiling and happy away from the field, is intense and physical in practices and games with a streak of nasty that at times resembles that of Stewart - the soft-spoken man nicknamed Big Country for his size at 6-7, 315 pounds.
"I think we're a lot younger and a lot stronger, and I think we'll do a great job,'' Amano said.
"I think we'll just push people around inside. Our run game is good as it is. I think we can only get better and better.''