NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two sets of coaching eyes paying particular attention to the offensive line is a departure from standard operating procedure for the Tennessee Titans.
But when you consider that those four eyeballs belong to a pair of Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive linemen — Titans head coach Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews — then the ante has been raised considerably on a position grouping that underachieved last season.
“I am managing my time as far as being involved with their meetings, the breakdown meetings,” Munchak said of his concerted effort this year to spend more time coaching the offensive line, which he did 14 seasons as position coach for the Titans before becoming head coach in 2011. “Last year, I didn’t do as much of that. I kind of moved around the building and was in all the meetings — defense, special teams. So, I kind of cut back on some of that with my time.”
The Titans wrap up spring offseason drills this week with a three-day minicamp that started Tuesday and concludes Thursday. The players report to training camp July 24 and hit the practice field the next day. The season opener is Sept. 8 at Pittsburgh.
The necessity for Munchak to pay more attention to the offensive line stems from a variety of sources. Last season, the offensive line started the same grouping the first seven games to poor reviews. By the time the season ended, only two of those original starters — tackle Michael Roos and left guard Fernando Velasco, who had moved from center — were able to make the field.
With that in mind, the team added several new faces up front this offseason, including signing former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre, considered the best at the position on the open market, and former St. Louis Rams guard Rob Turner. The Titans also drafted former Alabama star guard Chance Warmack with the No. 10 overall pick and former California center Brian Schwenke in the fourth round.
Couple those signings with the return of bookend tackles Roos on the left and David Stewart on the right — plus veterans Velasco, Mike Otto and Byron Stingily — and the Titans are trying to turn a team weakness from a year ago into a team strength.
“The guys of this (offensive line) room are aware of what we could potentially accomplish as a group and get this rolling back to where our expectations are for it,” said Matthews, an Oilers/Titans offensive lineman for 19 seasons, including 14 straight Pro Bowl selections, before being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
Matthews became Titans’ offensive line coach under Munchak, his former teammate with the franchise for 11 seasons, in 2011. And he welcomes the presence of the head coach — his good friend and contemporary — when it comes to working with the offensive line.
“I tell them all the time, one of his hats is working with the offensive line,” Matthews said. “But at the same time, he has that big hat of being the head coach. And that carries a lot of weight when he says anything in this room.”
For a fifth-year veteran like Velasco, he already knows what it’s like to be coached by Munchak, who served as the former Georgia standout’s position coach his first two seasons in the league.
“For Munchak to be back in there, it has been awesome,” said Velasco, who is currently listed as starting center but figures to be pushed by Schwenke. “Nothing gets overlooked. And that’s the main thing. When you have two sets of eyes like that, no matter what you do, nothing gets overlooked in the film room or on the field.”
For Munchak, the decision to spend more time coaching the offensive line meant an emphasis on time management and a more efficient distribution of duties. He has turned the defense completely over to coordinator Jerry Gray and special assistant Gregg Williams, meaning there is more time to work on the new offense of coordinator Dowell Loggains.
“It’s been pretty much with the offense the whole way and in Bruce’s meetings with the O-linemen, the installation meetings, on the field,” Munchak said of parceling his coaching time this spring. “At each stage, it’s kind of figuring out how the best way I can fit in and help with Bruce and the offensive side of the ball. So far, I think it is working well.”
Especially for rookies like Warmack and Schwenke, who are expected to have immediate impact. Warmack is already penciled into the starting right guard slot, while Schwenke had the highest grade by the Titans of any center in this past draft. The organization believes he can play right away, too.
Schwenke said he doesn’t remember either Munchak or Matthews from their playing days, but they do show up on film from time to time during position meeting sessions.
“Every now and then a clip of Bruce pops up on film because he wasn’t playing that long ago,” Schwenke said. “They were great players. They obviously knew what they were doing. So, it’s easy to trust them.”
Just how good this offensive line can become this season will go a long way in determining the success of an offense that has plenty of weapons. That includes third-year quarterback Jake Locker, running back Chris Johnson, tight end Delanie Walker and a bevy of talented receivers that includes Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and rookie Justin Hunter.
So far through organized team activities and into this week’s mini-camp, Matthews is encouraged by what he has seen from the offensive line.
“You realize those opportunities, when you actually look at your team and go, ‘Man, we really got a shot with this group.’ Other times, you line up and go, ‘Man, I hope we can do some things as a team,’” he said. “But I think everyone here, especially with the new guys we brought in, they are very excited and very focused on and coming out of the blocks and getting off to a fast start.”