Tennessee Titans camp preview: Offensive line
By P. L. Colter
We continue our Tennessee Titans countdown to training camp today with a look at the offensive line.
Key 2015 Departures:
Key 2016 Additions:
Ben Jones (center – free agent)
Jack Conklin (tackle – rookie)
Sebastian Tretola (guard – rookie)
Taylor Lewan (left tackle)
Chance Warmack (guard)
Quinton Spain (guard)
The offensive line was the unquestioned Achilles Heel of the offense, and arguably the weakest link on entire roster in 2015. The unit failed to open lanes for the running backs (25th in rushing), and led the league in sacks allowed (54).
A recipe for disaster for any offensive coordinator…regardless of their pedigree.
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Injuries certainly played a part in the o’line’s woes last season. Starting center and protection caller Brian Schwenke missed the final 11 games of the season after a nasty ankle injury caused him to be placed on injured reserve, and rookie 6th round pick Andy Gallik was simply over-matched when he attempted to fill those shoes.
Rookie third round pick Jeremiah Poutasi was also over-matched at right tackle while attempting to fill the void left by veteran tackle Michael Oher, who signed with the Carolina Panthers last spring.
In an attempt to “hide” him, the Titans moved Poutasi inside to try his hand at guard…to equally disastrous results. He finished the season as a healthy game day scratch.
Tackle Byron Bell was the lone bright spot of the unit. His versatility allowed Tennessee to plug-n-play him at various spots depending on need last year, but he suffered his own nasty season ending ankle injury in this year’s mini-camp…a significant blow to say the least.
The Titans have been trying to address their issues up front for quite some time, spending first round picks on offensive linemen three of the last four seasons. Chance Warmack (2013) and Taylor Lewan (2014) were dominant linemen in college, but have not lived up to expectations so far as professionals.
Both will need breakout seasons in order for this unit, and the offense as whole to move forward.
Tennessee selected tackle Jack Conklin with the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft, and with the injury to Bell, the rookie out of Michigan State will have to grow up quick.
Barring injury…(gasp)…he will be the starting right tackle when the Titans open the season against the Minnesota Vikings at Nissan Stadium.
While running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry have stolen the headlines, the Titans’ most important offseason acquisition may in fact be veteran free agent center Ben Jones.
His tough-nosed, physical style of play for the division rival Houston Texans makes him a perfect fit for Tennessee’s new smash mouth run-based approach this season. He’s an immediate upgrade to Gallik and Schwenke.
Hall of Fame offensive lineman Russ Grimm is the new offensive line coach, and will look to rebuild the unit’s confidence after back to back dismal seasons. He brings 3 Super Bowl rings and a wealth of coaching experience to the Titans.
Four of the five starting spots up front appear to be set heading into training camp…Lewan (LT), Jones (C), Warmack (RG), and Conklin (RT).
An interesting camp battle to keep an eye on this summer will be for the starting left guard position, and it looks like a three-man race.
Quinton Spain finished the 2015 season as the starting left guard, and I presume that it will be his job to lose.
With a full season and two offseasons now under his belt, Jeremiah Poutasi could also see reps there.
My dark horse is this year’s rookie sixth round pick out of Arkansas, Sebastian Tretola.
Like Jones, Tretola is a feisty physical specimen that likes to play in a phone booth. The Razorbacks were a smash mouth down hill running team themselves, so he should feel right at home in his new setting.
If Tretola catches on quickly, then things could get very interesting.
With a new emphasis on running the ball and protecting the quarterback, the offensive line will be under the microscope all season long.
The new coaching staff will make a concerted effort to play conservative, so look for the sack numbers to drop.
As for an uptick in run production, we will just have to wait and see.