NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Heading into his 10th season at offensive left tackle, no member of the Titans was hit harder than Michael Roos by the team’s flurry of changes this offseason.
Fired after three seasons as head coach was Mike Munchak, Roos’ position coach his first six years in the NFL. It was Munchak who made an on-campus visit at Eastern Washington that eventually turned into an endorsement for the team to select Roos in the second round of the 2005 draft. Also gone after three years is Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, who, like Munchak, is a Pro Football Hall of Fame member for his play with the franchise dating back to the team’s days as the Houston Oilers in the early 1980s.
"It’s very different," Roos said of new coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff while addressing the media for the first time since the changes. " … Sometimes, change is good. It’s given a whole new sense of urgency and excitement here for everybody. There are a lot of new players in here and guys from proven programs. It’s changed peoples’ attitudes."
The changes don’t stop with coaching for Roos, who has started 143 of a possible 144 games since becoming a Titan, first as a rookie right tackle and then as the team’s starting left tackle. When he moved to left tackle, 2005 draft classmate David Stewart took over at right tackle, soon making the duo one of the better offensive line bookends in the league.
But after struggling through injuries the past two seasons, Stewart retired after being released by the team last month. As the team goes through a second week of its official offseason conditioning program, Roos notices a big difference not having the personable Stewart around.
"It’s been way quieter," Roos, 31, said with a laugh. "There’s definitely a different feeling in the room. There are a lot less guys in the room. Me and him, we roamed these halls for nine years. So, it’s definitely a change for me."
Stewart embraced the nickname "Big Country" because of hulking size and love of farm life and the outdoors back home in Mississippi, especially when it comes to hunting and fishing. Roos figures retirement is suiting Stewart well.
"I’m guessing a lot of things in the woods around here are going to die," said Roos, a former Pro Bowler and All-Pro, "since he is out and about and free to roam the countryside."
The last six seasons, Roos and his fellow offensive linemen were charged with opening holes for running back Chris Johnson. He was released recently by the Titans after deciding not to renegotiate a contract that would have paid him $22 million the next three years, including $8 million this year.
"I spent six years with him," Roos said of Johnson, who became the franchise’s third all-time leading rusher with 7,965 yards during that time. "It’s been a fun six years. It’s been a lot of good times. He’s done a lot in those six years that not many people have. I don’t know if he has gotten as much credit as he deserves for really never missing a practice and really never missing a game and a start."
Replacing Stewart at right tackle is free agent acquisition Michael Oher, who spent the last five seasons starting for the Ravens. Thus far, Roos likes what he has seen in his new linemate.
"I think he is going to fit in well," Roos said. "We’ve all been working out together and in the classroom. So far, we’re all learning the stuff together and talking about it. It’s been good so far, just building that camaraderie during conditioning and lifting."
Oher is the only newcomer for an offensive line now coached by Bob Bostad, a 24-year coaching veteran who spent the last two seasons as offensive line coach for the Bucs. Right guard Chance Warmack, the team’s first-round draft pick last year, and center Brian Schwenke, a fourth-round pick, are a year older after starting as rookies. Left guard Andy Levitre, a notable free agent signee last year, figures to be healthier after struggling with nagging injuries.
Like all positions on both sides of the ball, the offensive line is learning a new offense and its inherent terminology and responsibilities.
"There is definitely in areas a lot more pieces to the puzzle, a lot more terminology," the 6-foot7, 310-pound Roos said. "That can be good in a lot of ways. It adds more confusion and more complexities that the defense will have to deal with. It’s just a matter of us learning a new language. And who doesn’t want to learn a new language at 31 years old?"
Roos said the offensive changes aren’t nearly as drastic for the running game as the passing game, although the language is different throughout.
"For us, the run game scheme-wise, everything is what we have been for the most part running," Roos said. "It is just completely different language. Some of the words are the same, but they actually mean a completely different thing. So, having to put that all together, it will take a little bit of time. The pass game, there is a lot more called pass protection and a lot more different rules. The whole philosophy of the pass game is completely different than what we have done in the past. So, it will take time getting used to why we are doing things a certain way and why it will work."
Because they had a coaching change, the Titans get an extra two weeks for their voluntary offseason conditioning programming that started last week and concludes this week. The Titans also get an extra voluntary minicamp to be held on April 29-30 and May 1.
With good buddy Stewart retiring and Roos entering his 10th season, he was asked how much longer he wanted to play.
"I don’t know," Roos said. "I feel good right now. Everything’s healthy. Everything’s there. I’ll keep playing as long as somebody wants me to keep playing for them and my body will let me."