NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The old guard introducing the new guard wasn’t exactly a changing of the guard for the Tennessee Titans.
But there sat Chance Warmack, the mammoth Alabama lineman who the Titans made the 10th overall pick Thursday night in the first round of the NFL Draft. Flanking his left at the introductory media conference here late Friday afternoon was Titans head coach Mike Munchak, a former guard himself with the same franchise whose career turned out all right, if you consider enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame noteworthy.
Somewhere down the halls inside the Titans’ football facility preparing for rounds two and three and the remainder of the NFL Draft on Saturday was offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, also a former star lineman with the franchise with the same Hall-of-Fame credentials. He, too, had often wondered what it would be like to coach an offensive lineman with Warmack’s credentials.
After all, Warmack’s selection marked the first time in two decades since the Titans used their first-round draft pick on an offensive lineman. In 1993, the then-Houston Oilers made former Illinois and future Pro Bowl tackle Brad Hopkins the 13th overall pick. But it all came full circle Thursday with the selection of Warmack, considering the last guards taken in the first round of the draft by the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans prior to Warmack’s selection were Munchak in 1982 and Matthews in 1983.
“It was a dream come true, man,” Warmack said of being selected by the Titans and having the opportunity to work under two coaches who are former offensive linemen with Hall-of-Fame playing careers. “I was definitely thinking what it would be like if I actually did play for Tennessee, and here we are.”
Warmack had been on the Tennessee radar for quite some time, especially since he had played in 45 games, starting 40, for two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide. In all, the Atlanta native was part of three national championship teams while there.
Even though Warmack was the obvious choice when the first-round pick came along, the Titans were also considering North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, but he was selected at No. 7 by Arizona. And the Titans also had their eyes set on the defensive side of the ball, where much help is needed.
But when Cleveland took LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo with the sixth pick and the New York Jets went with Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the ninth slot just one pick ahead of Tennessee, the choice of Warmack becoming a Tennessee Titan had become a no-brainer.
“Chance was our guy all along,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said.
Which was just fine with Warmack, who along with Milliner at No. 9 and fellow Crimson Tide offensive lineman D.J. Fluker taken by San Diego at No. 11 marked the first time in draft history that three players from the same team were drafted consecutively.
“It was everything,” Warmack said about what he liked about being picked by the Titans. “The (offensive) line coaches, the fact their running backs are great in what they do, they have a quarterback who can get the job done run and pass, their style of play is physical and run first, and they’re in the South, only three hours from where I live.”
Warmack is the second piece to a puzzle in upgrading the Titans’ woeful and injury-plagued offensive line that had a large part in last season’s 6-10 record. During free agency, the Titans signed the top guard on the market in former Buffalo Bills lineman Andy Levitre. And with offensive line standouts in left tackle Michael Roos and right tackle David Stewart returning, plus the return of veteran Fernando Velasco at center, the front offensively has gone from team concern to team strength.
That’s important, too, for an offense that still wants to feature running back Chris Johnson, but also affirm that it is time for third-year quarterback Jake Locker to take over the team reins and run with them.
Adding Warmack as a huge piece of the puzzle — figuratively and literally, considering he carries 317 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame — only enhanced the notion the Titans are all in for this season. After all, they did sign 11 other free agents other than Levitre in one of the most-active free agent periods ever for the franchise.
“Obviously, he’s a great size,” Munchak said of Warmack. “He’s played against some great football powers during his playing time at Alabama, played well, played well in big games, knows how to win, he enjoys the game.
“The power he has at the line of scrimmage, we felt was something I haven’t seen in a long time on film, the way he moves the pile.”
Certainly, Webster was sold on Warmack from the get go. And he wasn’t surprised that so many offensive linemen were selected in Thursday’s first round compared to just one quarterback (Florida State’s E.J. Manuel to Buffalo) and no running backs being taken.
“The strength of this draft through the first round was the offensive line,” said Webster, who is going through the NFL Draft for a second year as the team’s general manager. “It wasn’t quarterback or receiver or running back. It was the offensive line. When you are up there picking in the top 10, you want to get the best player that you can get.
“… This was an offensive line draft, and that’s pretty obvious, and there will be more to come. There will be players in the second and third round that will end up being good NFL offensive linemen.”
With Levitre slated to play left guard, where Warmack played the past three seasons at Alabama, it is evident the new kid on the block will move to right guard for the coming season and beyond. All that makes for another challenge for Matthews in his position as offensive line position coach.
Let’s just say it took much more convincing for Matthews that Warmack was the right guy for right guard than it did for Webster and Munchak.
“I go in very skeptical on linemen that I’ve heard about because, typically, they’re a product of the team they’ve played on — Alabama, having such a great tradition, such a hot streak,” Matthews said. “You kind of think, ‘Well, they’ve got a bunch of other guys on the team that are pumping him up.’ I went in very skeptical, wanting to shoot him down at every turn.
“Really, what sold me on him was every time I was with him, I got excited about the opportunity to watch him play and coach him.”