Lewan’s path to playing time as a rookie could be at guard

Rookie offensive lineman Taylor Lewan has been cross-training as a guard as training camp begins. The verstility he's learning could equate to more playing time in his first season.

Adam Hunger

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans rookie offensive lineman Taylor Lewan doesn’t know where he stands on the depth chart. He doesn’t even know what position he’ll play once the regular season arrives.

That’s just fine by him.

It is common practice for NFL teams to forego publishing a depth chart denoting starters and backups at the start of training camp.

As he opens his first training camp with a new team, count Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt among those coaches who don’t. But it didn’t come from lack of trying.

"I was going through that, and trying to do it," Whisenhunt said following Saturday’s first training camp session, "and I kept coming up with this depth chart that had a bunch of slashes, and a bunch of different names on the first line. I said it was just not worth doing that. We’ll let it settle out."

Just who eventually starts, backs up or doesn’t make the team will finally funnel to a 53-man roster by Aug. 30, the day before an eight-man development squad can be signed. The Titans open the season the following Sunday, Sept. 7 at Kansas City.

But before that, there are multiple training camp practices and four preseason games, including the first one two weeks from today on Aug. 9 against visiting Green Bay. The first roster cut from 90 players to 75 must be made by Aug. 26 at 3 p.m. CT.

"I told the players, ‘Don’t pay attention to the depth chart. You’re going to control that. Everybody has an opportunity here,’" Whisenhunt said. "We’re going to play the best guys. They are going to know where to line up. Coaches are going to tell them. So far, we haven’t had any issues with that."

But during Saturday’s two-plus hours of practice, it was apparent that Whisenhunt wanted to have the probable starters going against each other on both sides of the ball.

"It won’t be that way all the time," Whisenhunt said. "There will be times when we flip it, especially with some of the competitive stuff that we do, and everybody is on the same side of the field. But I think it is important early."

While the play was spirited in front of the announced crowd of approximately 2,500 fans that came to Saint Thomas Sports Park, Whisenhunt did admit that coming out of the first training camp session healthy was what pleased him the most.

After one more session on Sunday, the Titans can practice in pads on Monday.

"You look and you see in the news about players getting injured on the first day," Whisenhunt said. "I am very relieved to get through that first practice. I’m very relieved to get through the conditioning test (Friday), too, because that seems to be the two where you have those kind of things happen.

"There was a couple of times today when there are guys down on the ground and you just kind of cringe because it’s the first day. But we got through it good."

One notable Titan not available at the start of training camp was veteran left guard Andy Levitre, who underwent an appendectomy on Thursday and could miss two weeks, possibly more. That allowed first-round draft pick Taylor Lewan, the big tackle out of Michigan, the opportunity to work even more on the interior of the offensive line.

"I don’t mind it all," Lewan said of playing guard during practice, although he is heir apparent at left tackle once veteran Michael Roos retires, or is released. "I played tackle the last six years of my life, but if I can move around, I want to do what I can do to get on the field. I’m getting paid to do what I am told."

With Roos back on the left side for a 10th season, and nine-year right tackle David Stewart retiring, the Titans signed free agent tackle Michael Oher, who started all 80 games over the past five seasons for the Ravens at either tackle slot. That left Lewan challenging Oher for the starting spot, but also being groomed as a substitute for Levitre or right guard Chance Warmack, should the need arise because of injury.

"Obviously, we want to get him prepared to play tackle," Whisenhunt said of Lewan, the 11th overall draft pick in May. "But now with Andy going down, we want to get him some situations at guard, too. When you talk about in long-term thinking — when you talk about game day and depending upon seven active (offensive linemen), which is what it normally does — those guys have got to be able to do both. So, this is a great opportunity to get him some work, if he is not a starter."

At 6-foot-7, and 309 pounds, Lewan has the size of a prototypical tackle, but he is enjoying learning the responsibilities and nuances of playing guard just in case.

"As a guard, you don’t have to make as many (assignment) calls," Lewan said, "but you have to know a lot more of what’s going on in the interior with the linebackers on the other side and the noseguard and end. At tackle, you know what your assignment is, and that’s it.

"It’s just an opportunity to get out there with the ones and play against those guys, play against that speed, play against their talent. No matter where I play, as long as I am getting reps, I am going to learn the offense faster."

An important component for training camp via Whisenhunt’s philosophy is that all Titans players — veterans and rookies alike — be sequestered at a nearby hotel when they are not involved with football requirements at training camp. The coach even has a room there, but his assistants are not required to stay at the hotel, though often do.

"Chemistry is an important piece of this puzzle," said Whisenhunt, who has not yet set the final day of training camp. "You’ve got to live together. You’ve got to work together. This time of the year is when you really foster that.

"When you get out of here at 10 o’clock at night and you go have a snack, you are sitting around with these guys. That’s an important part of it, where you can just relax and talk, and it’s not the stressful environment it is all the time here for football."