Rookie pair bolsters Titans’ offensive line

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Much has been made of the Titans drafting an offensive lineman in the first round, for the first time in two decades.

It was an interior pick, too. That hadn’t occurred with the Titans/Oilers franchise in three decades.

But Alabama guard Chance Warmack was too good to pass with the No. 10 overall pick, especially with former Bills guard Andy Levitre already arriving via free agency. Coupled with veteran left tackle Michael Roos and right tackle David Stewart, a once-woeful offensive line has apparently been rebuilt in a hurry.

Even the re-signing of veteran Fernando Velasco (before the draft) made the center slot secure, too. But when the Titans selected California’s Brian Schwenke (Round 4) — the highest-rated center on the Titans’ draft board — the conversation soon turned to when he would move into the starting slot, flanked by Levitre to the left and Warmack to the right.

“It is a good place for an O-lineman right now,” Schwenke said of being mentored by two Hall of Famers — head coach Mike Munchak and OL coach Bruce Matthews. “I couldn’t be happier where I am at and who I am with. With coach Munchak and coach Matthews, I have a chance here.”

Joining Warmack will help ease the transition from college to professional for both. After last season, they worked out together for three months in Los Angeles in preparation for the NFL combine and draft. Along the way came the natural bonding of friendship among two players who were about to embark on similar paths.

Little did they know they’d soon be teammates.

“We have stayed pretty close,” Schwenke said of Warmack. “It was exciting when I got picked. He texted me, and we are both really excited to be here.

“… We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll be able to push each other and talk to each other, and that definitely helps.”

Warmack was surprised Schwenke was still available in the fourth round. He was the second center selected, trailing only Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick (Round 1 to the Cowboys).

“A lot of people say he should have been drafted higher,” Warmack said. “He is going to be a great teammate. I can’t wait to play games with him.”

At Cal, Schwenke started 36 games at three different positions — 20 at left guard, four at right guard and 12 at center. Known for a long mane of hair down his back, Schwenke also brings nastiness to the game. At the Combine, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 31 straight times.

“He’s just a real athletic guy,” Warmack said of Schwenke. “He really has deceptive speed. He does a lot of things. A lot of people don’t know a lot about him in terms of how well he plays.”

The ability for Schwenke and Warmack to learn together from the get-go has not been lost on the Titans head coach, who likened the situation to when Munchak and Matthews entered the league with the then-Houston Oilers (one year apart). Munchak was the first offensive lineman taken in the 1982 draft, with Matthews going ninth overall in ’83.

Their ride playing alongside each other not only produced a lifetime friendship, but paved their way to eventual enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not that Warmack and Schwenke will ever get to that level, but they stand a better chance for sustained success by working together along the way.

“That’s what you hope can happen,” Munchak said of Warmack and Schwenke helping each other’s progress. “Those guys know each other from working out, the way it is getting ready for the Combine and things like that. Those guys get together in groups and get a chance to know each other a little bit.

“So, it’s good they are familiar with each other. I think it is exciting when you come in together with guys that play the same spots, then you have a chance to be together, if things work out, for a long time. Bruce and I did that. It worked out well for us.”

After playing guard for three seasons at Cal, Schwenke moved positions for his senior year. He quickly felt comfortable calling line signals from the center slot.

“I feel like I can do a good job of setting the offensive line,” the 6-foot-3, 314-pound Schwenke said. “In college, I kind of set the tone a little bit, kept more vocal, so I did that and felt pretty good about that.”

All Titans offensive linemen should feel good that Munchak said he will spend more time coaching the offensive line, alongside Matthews. Last season, the offensive line was hit hard by injuries and poor play and played a large part in the disappointing 6-10 season.

“I am going to spend much more time, he and I, working together with the line,” Munchak said of teaming with Matthews. “I have been dealing with the veterans also in meetings, more so than I have in the past. You will see a lot more of that with the two of us doing it, which we always wanted to do.

“For a long time, we were both in the coaching end. This gives me a chance to get hands-on with those guys on a daily basis, in the meetings and things like that.”