The Tennessee Titans spent much of the early part of the offseason flirting with various veteran centers in an apparent attempt to upgrade the middle of the offensive line.
The Titans added guard Steve Hutchinson early in free agency as they work toward getting their run game back on track. But Tennessee made little secret of the fact that plenty of center candidates were parading through Baptist Sports Park as unrestricted free agents and leaving current starter Eugene Amano twisting in the wind just two years after he signed a five-year, $26 million extension.
Tennessee had visits with Scott Wells, Jeff Saturday, Dan Koppen and Chris Myers, only to see each of them sign elsewhere. Then just before the draft the Titans brought in veteran Jeff Faine for a look-see, but postponed their interest in him until after the draft. It remains to be seen if the club will circle back and try to sign Faine or not.
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What was also puzzling was that they passed on Wisconsin center Peter Konz, a player they had with a first-round grade, not once, but twice in last week’s draft. Konz was the top-rated center on most boards, and while the Titans might have toyed with him as their pick at No. 20, it was not surprising that they didn’t pull the trigger. The Titans decided on receiver Kendall Wright of Baylor.
But when Konz’s name had still not been called by Tennessee’s pick at No. 52, it was surprising that the Titans instead opted to help their defense, grabbing Zach Brown, a linebacker from North Carolina.
Coach Mike Munchak, himself a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, said the Titans considered Konz over Brown, but given the help their defense needed, they chose to go with the linebacker.
“He was definitely a guy we were considering, but we were leaning to the defensive side of the ball, and when we had one of the linebackers available that we felt could fit our need, that made the decision easy to make.”
Barring reigniting the Faine talks, any open competition at the center spot will likely have to come from within. The Titans did land undrafted free agent William Vlachos off Alabama’s national championship team. Vlachos, a two-year starter, will be a long shot like any other undrafted rookie, but is excited about the challenge.
“I’m going to come in there and compete every day.” Vlachos told TitanInsider.com. “I consider myself a student of the game, I’m prepared.”
More likely, Vlachos will be a long-term project, and the chief competition on the roster will be from Fernando Velasco, who took a similar route as Vlachos and now appears ready to compete as he begins his third NFL season. Velasco is regarded as one of the strongest players on the team from his weight-room work, and could give Amano a run for his money during training camp and preseason.
-The Titans make an unusual pick in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, but it was one that everyone seemed unanimously on board with in SMU’s Taylor Thompson. Thompson, a defensive end for the Mustangs, was a tight end in high school, but switched positions in college because June Jones became head coach and installed the run-and-shoot, phasing out the tight end position.
The Titans scouting staff did its homework and came away convinced that Thompson could be potentially dynamic as a 6-6, 260-pound receiving tight end.
“After the season ended, he went to the Players All-Star Classic,” Titans regional scout Jon Salge said. “He played only tight end that week of practice so myself and (scouting coordinator) Blake Beddingfield went out there and saw him run around practicing full-time tight end routes, catching the ball, blocking, the whole deal. That’s when we said, ‘Wow, this guy has some ability.'”
Thompson is eager to make the switch back to his natural position.
“Since I played defensive end for the past four years in college, I kind of have the mindset of the opponent,” Thompson said. “That’s a huge thing in football is to understand the enemy. I have that athletic side of me that I can bring to offense that I can really be an aggressive and athletic tight end.”
-The Titans are waiting a week before bringing their rookie class in for orientation. Players will arrive on May 10 and take the field for the first time on May 11 and 12.
“The reason behind that is we can bring them in that Thursday and keep them here,” coach Mike Munchak said of the move. “They will have rookie orientation for the guys we do sign so maybe 20 guys will have that orientation with just one-on-one time with the coaches and get their equipment and those types of things, get their physicals.”
-If the Titans are looking to pin their opponents, then they had a good draft. Both second-round pick Zach Brown, a linebacker from North Carolina, and third-rounder Mike Martin, a defensive tackle from Michigan, were high school state wrestling champions. Brown went 29-0 as a high school wrestler in Maryland, winning the state title in his weight division. Martin won the state championship in Michigan as a junior, his first year to compete in the sport.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“The funny thing is we liked him as a defensive end too.” – Titans general manager Ruston Webster on Taylor Thompson, a defensive end at SMU whom they will use as a tight end.