NFL

Titans have competition at guard

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)

For four seasons now, Fernando Velasco has been looking for an opportunity.

The undrafted free agent first came to the Titans in 2008 and promptly got injured at the start of his first training camp. Since that time, he spent nearly two years on the practice squad and last year as a backup guard and center.

But now, Velasco is finally getting a chance to be considered for a starting role, primarily at right guard.

The main competition for Velasco is Leroy Harris, a two-year starter at left guard, who is trying to stay in the lineup by moving over to the right side after the Titans signed seven-time Pro Bowl selection Steve Hutchinson as a free agent.

''For a guy like me, it's fine. As athletes, that's all we want to do is have a chance to compete. That's the fun part about it is getting a chance to compete,'' said Velasco, who played both center and guard at the University of Georgia.

The Titans (No. 21 in the AP Pro32) have said that Velasco might also find himself in the center mix, where Eugene Amano and Kevin Matthews are in a position battle as well. But thus far in camp, Velasco has mostly been at right guard.

''For me it doesn't matter what position, I just want to play,'' Velasco said. ''I don't want to be picky. I'll let them decide that. With all the guys they've got playing both positions, I think they're going to mix and match them and see what the best combination is. I'm not picky, I just want to be part of the five.''

Harris knows that feeling as well. Until he became a starter in 2010, he spent three seasons as a backup guard and center himself, even getting a spot start at right tackle once in 2009.

So moving over from left to right guard isn't a big deal, if it means staying in the Titans' starting lineup.

''Moving to the other side, I don't mind it,'' Harris said. ''I've been fortunate enough to play a bunch of positions while I've been here, so moving to right guard is not that big of a deal. It's just the switching of the feet and getting comfortable with (right tackle David) Stewart, and getting comfortable with the footwork.''

Thus far in camp, offensive line coach Bruce Matthews has kept Harris, and Amano, the Titans' starting center the past two years, in with the first team, though a true competition has been promised.

''Right now, it's just a matter of them getting work. They're all getting an equal amount of work, whether it's with the ones or the twos,'' Matthews said. ''The starters from last year are the ones who are getting the lion's share of the ones right now. But the big thing at this point of camp is as many reps as we all can get.''

Once the first couple of weeks of camp are done, and the linemen are in true football game shape, the mixing and matching of personnel will be more frequent. Harris says he welcomes the competition, even if his starting spot is one that is up for grabs.

''The competition is to be expected. That's the game we play. You expect to be competing every play, and I welcome that. It pushes us and makes us all better, and I like that competition part of it anyway. It drives you,'' said Harris who missed time in the off-season following shoulder surgery.

How long will it take for the competitions on the line to play out?

''To be perfectly, I'd love to see the competition go all the way to the (start of the) season, because you've got two capable guys who won't be playing in that spot as well,'' Matthew said.

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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tagged: Titans, Leroy Harris, Fernando Velasco, Kevin Matthews

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