Titans creating competition on offensive line
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
The Tennessee Titans are taking nothing for granted in their attempts to improve the middle of their offensive line.
Two days after taking Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick in the draft, the Titans continued reconstructing the interior of their line Saturday by using a fourth-round selection on California guard/center Brian Schwenke.
Tennessee spent the rest of the day addressing a defense that allowed a league-high 29.4 points per game last year. The Titans selected LSU end Lavar Edwards in the fifth round, Nevada cornerback Khalid Wooten in the sixth round and Nebraska safety Daimion Stafford in the seventh round.
''I think we helped ourselves on both sides of the ball,'' Titans general manager Ruston Webster said.
That's most evident on offense, particularly up front.
Titans coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame guard in his own right, emphasized improving a line that didn't open up enough running room for Chris Johnson or provide enough protection for quarterback Jake Locker last season. The Titans ranked at the bottom of the NFL in time of possession a year ago.
''We have a chance to build something special here,'' Munchak said. ''Obviously my background is you win football games because of the guys up front. If we're going to be an offense that takes over time of possession and (does) the things we want to do, it has to happen on the offensive line. That's the challenge. We have to play a lot better than we did the last few years on offense. That starts up front.''
The selection of Schwenke continues a rebuilding process that started well before the draft.
Tennessee lured free-agent guard Andy Levitre away from Buffalo with a six-year, $46.8 million contract. The Titans also signed free agent guard/centers Rob Turner and Chris Spencer. Fernando Velasco, the Titans' starting center last year, signed a one-year tender Monday.
All those additions naturally might create uncertainty for the returning linemen.
''The natural question is, `What does this mean for me?' '' Munchak said. ''It means do everything you need to do to be the best player you can be. You'll get your opportunity on the field. You're going to have an opportunity to compete and make the team if you're one of the best players. Competition, there's nothing bad about that.''
Schwenke started 12 games at left guard for California in 2011 and moved to center last season. The Titans believe he can play both spots, but they prefer him at center.
Schwenke worked out with Warmack before the draft and said he looked forward to playing alongside him. Both wanted to end up in Tennessee because of the opportunity to play for Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, another Hall of Fame guard.
Warmack's ''just an absolute monster on the field,'' Schwenke said. ''He's a great player. I watched his film. I'm very excited. I never thought I'd get to play next to him.''
Schwenke says he has the type of mean streak that he considers an essential ingredient for a successful offensive lineman.
''Absolutely, the best offensive linemen have a little bit of nastiness in them,'' Schwenke said. ''I don't think you're going to find the best offensive lineman who's a nice guy on the field. It's not going to happen.''
Schwenke will get a chance to play immediately.
''The best five's going to play,'' Matthews said. ''If that means two rookies, that's great, it means those guys are developing and doing well.''
The defensive line also is an area of need for the Titans, but their only draft pick at that spot was the fifth-round selection of Edwards. The Titans believe Edwards' so-so production at LSU isn't an accurate reflection of his potential.
Edwards, who is 6-4 and 270 pounds, recorded 4 1/2 sacks while starting only six games last year for a talent-laden LSU line that included Cleveland Browns first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo and Houston Texans third-round selection Sam Montgomery.
''He's a big athletic man,'' Webster said. ''The two guys he was playing behind are very good football players obviously. He made the most of his time. He was productive when he did play. His traits - his size, his speed - kind of fit what we were looking for in a defensive end at that time.''
Edwards was one of four Southeastern Conference players selected by the Titans. After taking Warmack in the first round, the Titans traded up to take Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter in the second round and chose Missouri outside linebacker Zaviar Gooden in the third round.
''That's where the best players seem to all be,'' Webster said after the Gooden selection. ''I think that's played out throughout the draft, not just with us.''
Wooten should team up with Connecticut cornerback and third-round pick Blidi Wreh-Wilson to add depth to the Titans' secondary. Wooten also can help out on special teams, as he returned kickoffs and punts at Nevada.
Stafford had 96 tackles and four interceptions for Nebraska last season to earn first-team all-Big Ten honors from the league's media. The hard-hitting Stafford will get a chance to learn from veteran safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson, who signed free-agent deals with the Titans this offseason.
''I do bring the wood,'' Stafford said. ''That's probably one of the best things I like to do, is punish somebody with the ball.''