NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Versatility was the theme running through the 2014 NFL Draft for the Titans, as they picked up six new players in New York City.
Then again, times are changing for the Titans under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt. The new offense asks players to play a variety of roles, while the move to a 3-4 basic defensive set — a change from the previous 4-3 alignment — requires defenders to play interchangeable roles.
"I think that’s important on every team," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said. "You look for players that can do more than one thing. It helps you roster-wise, and that’s what we did. That was intentional."
With the influx of free agents, especially defensively, and the addition of the six draft picks, Whisenhunt feels he has enough working parts to get to work with minicamps this month and next leading to start of training camp in late July.
"I think we’ve got a good core group of guys," Whisenhunt said. "We’ve got some young guys that we get a chance to see what type of versatility they have. … The next six weeks is the fun part. We’ve got the guys, now we get a chance to work with them." Here’s a look at each of the six draft picks:
Why drafted: Nine-year starting left tackle Michael Roos is in the final year of his contract, and Lewan becomes heir apparent to take over there. While two other tackles were taken before him, Lewan was graded by many as the best tackle prospect in the draft.
Short term: Lewan will learn all line positions this season in case of injury, but will also compete for the starting nod at left tackle or right tackle, where the Titans signed free agent Michael Oher.
Long term: The Titans view Lewan as the answer at left tackle for the next decade. At 6-foot-7 and 309 pounds, he still ran the 40-yard dash at the Combine in 4.8 seconds.
Lewan said: "I’m coming in here with the idea to compete and win a job. I know there are two tackles that are really good players and well-established, but I’m here to play ball."
Webster said: "You can go out and be Rookie of the Year and really just have an average career. It’s important that it’s somebody that can be long term, and I think Taylor can do that."
Final take: While it wasn’t the sexy pick of a Johnny Manziel or even someone who has to make an immediate impact, the Titans showed it’s a marathon and not a sprint by drafting a long-term answer at a key position.
Why drafted: After releasing six-year veteran Chris Johnson, the Titans were automatically in the market for a running back to complement veteran Shonn Greene.
Short term: Sankey will share the load of carries with Greene from the get go. He’s tailor made for Whisenhunt’s offense that seeks versatility in skill position players.
Long term: In the modern NFL, the shelf life of running backs has shortened significantly, as the position has become less important. As the new Titans’ offense evolves, Sankey should grow with it.
Sankey said: "I think I’m an all-around back. I’ve proven that I can move the ball on the ground, catch it through the air and help in pass protection."
Whisenhunt said: "The one thing that we really liked about Bishop is, whether we are in a sub-offense or in a base offense, we felt he could contribute in either one of those, and that was important to us."
Final take: With no running backs taken by the time their second-round slot rolled around, the Titans had the pick of the litter. If Sankey doesn’t work out while other backs in this draft do, the Titans have only themselves to blame.
Why drafted: With the move to the 3-4, Jones can play all three line slots. Once again, a player’s versatility within a singular position caught Titans attention.
Short term: Depth is a strength for the defensive front, where Jones should rotate among four or five Titans, including standout Jurrell Casey. Jones will get a chance to play from day one.
Long term: Jones has had trouble with weight issues, but he hasn’t had the counseling of a complete NFL training staff and specified regimen. Jones will need to progress to stay in a rotation that is very congested.
Jones said: "I’m going to come in there and bring some toughness. I am physical at the point of attack and can help stop the run."
Whisenhunt said: "He’ll be able to play all three positions inside, and we’ll get a chance to see where he fits, add some competition, a big guy."
Final take: Jones played the defensive interior in both the 3-4 and 4-3 at Penn State. As noseguard in the 3-4, weight is important to maintain, but it’s also something that can get away from a player. If Jones stays at a comfortable playing weight, he can be a force.
Why drafted: After playing three years at cornerback, Huff switched to free safety last season. He’s known as a big-time hitter, leading the Cowboys in tackles last season.
Short term: Huff enters the competition to start at left cornerback with veterans Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Tommie Campbell. He’ll most likely see action this year in nickel and dime packages and on special teams.
Long term: The Titans are deep and talented at both safety slots, so Huff can be groomed to move there eventually. He’s got the speed to play free safety, but his tackling prowess might say strong safety.
Huff said: "My flexibility and versatility enable me to … juggle between all of the positions. Just my knowledge of the game of football, I really understand and pick up on defenses really quickly."
Webster said: "He is one of those guys who can play in the nickel or can play corner or he could play free safety, and I think will help us on special teams."
Final take: With solid depth in the secondary, the Titans have the luxury of bringing Huff along slowly and figure if he’s a cornerback or a safety.
Why drafted: Willliamson is a tackling machine at middle linebacker, having made 237 tackles the last two seasons. That includes 135 as a junior, second-best in the SEC and seventh nationally.
Short term: It is unsure whether veteran middle linebackers Colin McCarthy and Moise Fokou will fit into the new defense, so Williamson will get the chance to start right away.
Long term: Linebackers are a premium for the Titans, who want the middle slots to be interchangeable. Williamson has strength at the point of attack, but can also defend in space.
Williamson said: "I’m going to bring speed and toughness, a guy that can make great tackles and get off linemen well."
Whisenhunt said: "He’s an inside guy that can play multiple downs, that has a little bit of flexibility positionally, and can play both of the inside (linebacker) positions."
Final take: Having prepped at Tennessee high school power Milan, Williamson would love to play his entire career for a team he grew up following.
Why drafted: In the sixth round, Mettenberger was low risk, high reward. He has a strong arm and played last year in a pro-style offense under LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator.
Short term: Mettenberger needs to get completely healthy from knee and back issues and then beat out Tyler Wilson, the former Arkansas quarterback, for the No. 3 spot behind starter Jake Locker and backup Charlie Whitehurst.
Long term: Locker is in the final year of his contract, so he’s auditioning for a job in 2015. Mettenberger has the tools to be a starter, but he has to develop them.
Mettenberger said: "I am going to come every day with a hard hat and lunch pail to get after it. Whatever happens, happens. I am just going to compete my tail off."
Whisenhunt said: "He was a higher-rated player on our board than what you would anticipate in the sixth round. That’s part of what led to being so excited about getting him."
Final take: Off-the-field issues, including a failed drug test at the NFL Combine because of a diluted urine sample, raised red flags. But in the sixth round, the Titans figured the roll of the dice was worth it.