Titans get O-line pieces together at the right time
The Titans finally have the pieces of their potentially dynamic O-line working in unison.
By GREG POGUEFS Tennessee
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Finally, Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews has his dance card filled.
For the first time this season, the Titans have tackle Michael Roos and guard Andy Levitre playing together on the left side. Likewise on the right, as tackle David Stewart and guard Chance Warmack are busy trying to get their steps down, as well.
"There is no substituting for playing next to a guy, just getting time and those reps, especially now because we’re getting into the grind period, where the newness has kind of worn off and your sore pretty much every day," Matthews said of getting the projected starting offensive linemen all working together on the field at the same time for the first time during training camp.
That’s because Titans veterans Roos (shoulder) and Stewart (leg), as well as free-agent acquisition Levitre (knee), were held out of organized team activities and mini-camp this spring because of lingering injuries.
That left rookie Warmack, the team’s first-round pick and projected stalwart for many years to come, working during spring with only one other projected starter, veteran center Fernando Velasco.
And Warmack was slow to the party for training camp, too, after ending a five-day contract holdout on Monday and practicing with the team -- and alongside his fellow starters -- for the first time Tuesday night.
"It’s all about repetition," Warmack said Thursday, his third day of camp. "You just have to get to get a feel for what (Stewart) is going to do and work off of that. There is still a lot of stuff that I will have to figure out on my own. And it’s working out. I see some improvements every day."
Stewart, a ninth-year starter for the Titans, has already taken Warmack under his wing. It also helps that Warmack played at Alabama -- Stewart's native state, although he played at SEC rival Mississippi State.
"It’s going good," Stewart said. "But (Warmack) still has a long way to go. Of course, we all have a long way to go. It’s just getting in the meeting room and talking and getting on the same page and getting a feel.
"It’s a struggle. Communications is the main thing. It’s a constant struggle to being on the same page."
On the other side, Roos -- also a nine-year Titans starter -- remembers last season when veteran Steve Hutchinson, now retired, was signed to play left guard. Let’s just say there were plenty of times they stepped on one another's feet during their early days of practicing together.
Roos expects some of the same this time around with Levitre, who played the past four seasons with the Bills and was considered the top free agent guard on the market.
"It has been going really well," Roos said of working with Levitre. "We have been talking a lot in between plays and while other groups are going. We've been talking a lot about how I want to see things, how I do things, seeing how he is visualizing things.
"It has been really good so far these first few days. We’ve been learning a lot about each other fast."
Certainly, the combined playing experience of Roos and Levitre makes for a shortened learning curve between the pair.
"He’s done all this stuff," Roos said of Levitre. "Some of it might have been done a little bit differently. He is telling me how he used to do it, which helps me be able to translate it into how we do it here, and it eases him learning the verbiage or footwork or technique.
"A lot of it is him seeing how my footwork is supposed to be, and that helps him understand the play better. It’s been going really good."
Levitre agrees with that assessment and credits both Roos and himself being veterans, who understand the basics of working together in tandem as tackle and guard on the crucial left side of the offensive line, as making the process go smoother and quicker.
"It has gone pretty good," Levitre said. "We have had a little bit of foot traffic. But I don't think it is necessarily either of our faults. It might have been technical things or maybe a line wrong.
"Communication is the big thing for us. As time goes on, we will get that down."
Having played 19 years at various offensive line positions during a Pro Football Hall of Fame career for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, Matthews understands it takes time to work through the nuances of offensive line play in tandem among all five positions.
In fact, he doesn’t know if you ever get it completely down, no matter how long you play next to somebody.
"I played next to (former Oilers/Titans left tackle) Brad (Hopkins) for years," Matthews said, "and even later in our careers, we were still learning and figuring things out and communicating. It’s really a comfort zone-type thing.
"We all crave that comfort zone. No question, it helps you as a player. It isn't to say, though, that you can’t play next to a guy you have never played next to. It’s just that there is a lot of anxiety.”
Especially for a rookie like Warmack, who is in complete absorption mode as he navigates his first training camp.
"He helps me out tremendously," Warmack said of Stewart. "Any question that I have, he is willing to help me and carry me along. Everybody is helping me just getting me through this situation.
“I’m a baby compared to (Stewart). I like him. He’s a good dude and real humble guy. I’m looking forward to working with him."
The Titans were also hoping that rookie center Brian Schwenke, who also worked some at guard during training camp before Warmack’s arrival, could challenge Velasco for the starting nod at center. But he has been sidelined by a hamstring injury that will have him miss the first preseason game Thursday (against the Redskins).
Depth along the offensive line that struggled last year because of injuries and inadequate play comes from a trio of veterans -- tackles Mike Otto and Bryon Stingily and guard/center Rob Turner, who signed as a free agent after starting all 16 games (nine at center, seven at left guard) last season for the Rams.
"It really tests you as far as staying focused mentally,” Matthews said of training camp. “Really, it’s out here when you are grinding that you kind of forge that relationship with the guy you’re playing next to.
"Typically, one guy can carry you a little bit, but the other guy has got to be able to communicate. It’s just figuring out what that relationship is going to be for during the season."