Blood or water? Or both, perhaps?
It is tough to argue with Bruce Matthews’ assessment that bloodlines played a role in the fact that he appeared in 296 games during his Hall of Fame career and never missed one because of injury. His brother Clay, a linebacker, took the field 278 times, which included an eight-year stretch during which he missed just two.
“I think all of the Matthews’ were born with a disdain for the training room,” Bruce Matthews said. “It’s one of those things — you think it looks all right being out of practice and doing your own program on the side. Then, after 10 minutes you’re like, ‘Oh gosh, this is horrible. They’re going to take my spot away.’
“All those things run through your mind, so it’s definitely one of those ‘grass is always greener’ scenarios.”
Then again, maybe it’s something in the water at the Tennessee Titans’ MetroCenter training facility.
Matthews, after all, is not simply part of a family legacy of longevity. As a franchise, the Titans also have a reputation — a growing one, at that — for offensive linemen who stay healthy and stay active.
When he started at left tackle in the Titans’ 30-13 victory at Cleveland a little more than a week ago, left tackle Michael Roos extended to 100 his streak of consecutive starts. Combined with right guard Jake Scott — 108 straight starts for the Colts and Titans — that made Tennessee the only team in the league with one guard and one tackle with active streaks of at least 100 games.
In fact, they account for half of all the guards and tackles in the NFL with active streaks of 100 or more games.
In between Matthews, whose playing career with the Oilers/Titans ended in 2001, and the current duo was guard Benji Olson, who started 85 in a row at one point and missed just two games over his first nine seasons in the league, the last eight of those as a starter.
“I don’t know if people really understand what a big deal that is unless they go through it,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “They haven’t gone through it here. Michael Roos and [Scott], those guys haven’t missed games in six years or something like that. … It’s just a great situation. Obviously it works for the running game, and it works for the passing game.”
Roos has never missed a game since being drafted in the second round out of Eastern Washington in 2005. He started all 16 contests (15 at right tackle) as a rookie and has been a fixture on the left side ever since. There he succeeded Brad Hopkins, who missed just 14 games and made 188 starts at left tackle during the course of a 13-year career.
As of the end of last season, no other player drafted in 2005 — regardless of position — started every game during that time.
“We’re here to do a job, and you do your job as long as you’re healthy,” Roos said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be healthy. It’s not something that I ever think about, and there’s nothing I can say that I’ve done that somebody else doesn’t do. But I’ve been very fortunate, and as long as I’m able and ready and willing to and capable of playing at the level I need to play at, I’ll always be there.”
Scott settled in as part the group that protected Peyton Manning five games into his rookie season (2004). He started the final eight contests of that season and has not been out of either lineup since.
The Titans signed him as a free agent in 2008 as Olson’s replacement.
“It’s important to me to be dependable,” Scott said. “I think it shows you can count on me to be out there on Sunday — you can count on what you’re going to get every Sunday. Whether I’ve been in Indy or here, that’s a position the staffs and the organizations don’t have to worry about. They know who is going to be there every Sunday, and they now what they’re going to get.”
Of course, there is a difference between being healthy enough to play and being healthy.
Roos and Scott have overcome more than a few aches and pains to extend their runs. In recent years they also have remarked in conversations with other linemen on the first day of training camp that they feel as good at that particular moment as they will at any time over the coming six months.
“The toughest, I think, I’ve had was two years ago I sprained my ankle pretty good and I had to play on that,” Scott said. “It took a few weeks to get back to normal.”
Added Roos: “I’ve definitely had twisted knees and ankles and all that kind of stuff. They’re all painful, and painful to play with, but it’s never enough to sit out a game. I’ve been fortunate enough that it hasn’t happened, but all I can do is go game-by-game.”
The two of them helped pave the way for Chris Johnson’s record-setting season in 2009 and this fall have made Hasselbeck one of the best-protected quarterbacks in the league. Through the first four games the veteran quarterback had been sacked four times, the lowest total of his career after four appearances.
“In my career, in the years I played well, the offensive line stayed healthy and there was continuity up front,” Hasselbeck said. “In the years I didn’t play well and the team didn’t do well, we had guys get hurt up front and had different combinations and all that kind of stuff.
“They have had continuity here. … From that side of it, it’s as good as it could be, it’s as solid as it could be. We’re not crossing our fingers and hoping it’s good. We know it’s good.”