NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For a second straight year, the Titans bolstered their offensive line in the first round of the NFL Draft by selecting Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan with the No. 11 pick on Thursday.
Last year, the Titans selected Alabama left guard Chance Warmack with the No. 10 pick, drafted starting center Brian Schwenke in the fourth round and signed left guard Andy Levitre via free agency.
"It is something that has been important to us and to me that we stay strong there," said Titans general manager Ruston Webster of the offensive line. "I think the game starts at the line of scrimmage. That’s something we invested in last year. I think it is important that we keep that going."
The 6-foot-7, 309-pound Lewan was the third offensive tackle selected among the first 11 picks. Auburn’s Greg Robinson went to the Rams with the second pick, followed by Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews to the Falcons at No. 6.
The Titans had all three tackles — Lewan, Robinson and Matthews — graded highly enough to be taken with the No. 11 pick.
"We thought there were three left tackles in the draft that were obvious kind of left tackle type of guys," said Webster. "(Lewan) was one of those three."
Lewan immediately becomes heir apparent to eventually take over at left tackle for veteran Michael Roos, a nine-year starter who is in the final year of his contract. The Titans signed former Ravens tackle Michael Oher to fill the right tackle slot vacated by the retirement of eight-year starter David Stewart.
"I know they have two established offensive tackles," said Lewan of the Titans. "My job is to bring competition … and at the same time learn from these guys. I want to understand how they made it so long and how I can be one of those guys who can play for a long time as well."
A four-year starter at Michigan, Lewan was a two-time All-American and Big Ten Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year and started the last 49 games for the Wolverines at left tackle. Last season, he graded 87.5 percent for blocking consistency, had 103 key blocks and/or knockdowns, and had 18 key blocks that resulted in touchdowns.
Along the way, Lewan gained a reputation as being a nasty player. Early in his college career, Lewan had to be pulled from games several times because of his temper.
"I am a person that plays as hard (and) as fast and as nasty as I possibly can," said Lewan, a native of Cave Creek, Arizona. "I try to play through the whistle and try to be one of the toughest guys on the field."
Lewan has also had off-the-field issues. He was recently charged with three misdemeanor assault charges in connection with an incident in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It came on Dec. 1 after Michigan had defeated Ohio State earlier in the day, and Lewan was involved with an alleged altercation with two Ohio State fans.
Webster and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt met with Lewan at the team facility leading up to the draft and felt comfortable enough with what they were told to make the pick.
"We addressed those with Taylor," said Webster of the pending charges. "We talked about them even today just to make sure, and I feel pretty comfortable with where he is and who he is. Taylor is a tough guy. I feel pretty comfortable we are going to get a solid guy here."
Lewan said he couldn’t discuss the pending charges but said that he was forthright about the situation when asked by the Titans.
"I explained to them everything and basically told them the truth," said Lewan. "I’m happy that they believed me. I am happy they believe in the character and the kind of person I am.
"My job is not to do reckless things off the field. My job is to make sure my quarterback is safe and my running back is in good position to gain yards."
Whisenhunt said there will be plenty of time between organized team activities and minicamps later this month and in June to figure just who will be starting where on the offensive line when the season opens Sept. 7 at Kansas City.
"There’s nothing wrong with competition," said Whisenhunt. "There’s nothing wrong with getting a good, young tackle and finding out where he can play.
" … It’s important to cross train guys at that position, especially if you are only going to have seven (offensive linemen) active on game day. If (Lewan) earns it, he’ll start."
Webster said he fielded several queries for a possible trade to get the team’s pick but didn’t specify which team or what players they were interested in drafting. The Titans have only five more draft picks, including the 10th pick in the second round (42nd overall) on Friday. Other selections include overall picks 112 (fourth round), 151 (fifth round), 186 (sixth round) and 228 (seventh round) on Saturday.
"We had some talks (about a trade), but it just didn’t quite work out," said Webster. "Sometimes, that happens. But fortunately, we were able to get a good player.
" … Nobody specified any picks and who they were trading up for."
The general consensus heading into the draft was that, if available, the Titans would take UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who would have fit nicely into the team’s new 3-4 defensive scheme. Instead, the Vikings selected Barr with the ninth pick.
The Titans also had their eyes on North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, but he was taken with the 10th pick by the Lions.
"Those guys deserved to go where they went because they are extremely talented athletes with size, speed," said Webster. "They really have that whole package. Was it surprising they went in those spots? No, not really."
Lewan is expected to arrive in Nashville for a news conference at the team facility on Friday.
"The bottom line with this whole thing is," said Whisenhunt, "he was the best player on our board when it was our pick. When it’s an offensive lineman — especially a left tackle, and he’s the best player on your board — that’s a pretty important thing."