The Tennessee Titans offensive line was transformed from weakness to strength in one off-season last year.
Whether it was a new coach in Russ Grimm, a new message that he preached, some new faces in Jack Conklin, Ben Jones and Josh Kline or some combination of those things, the Titans offensive line was one of the key components to the team’s turnaround in 2016.
Now, the Titans head into 2017 with all five starters returning from a year ago, headlined by Conklin, who was All-Pro at right tackle as a rookie, and fourth-year man Taylor Lewan, who lived up to his 2014 first-round billing by becoming a Pro Bowl left tackle.
Add in Jones, who steadied the center position for the first time since Kevin Mawae was snapping the football, and it is easy to see how the Titans’ transformation in the trenches took place. The two most underrated things about the offensive line, which helped DeMarco Murray lead the AFC in rushing and protected quarterback Marcus Mariota by drastically reducing the amount of times he was sacked, were guards Quinton Spain and Kline. Spain, an undrafted rookie from 2015 who started the final six games that year, became a road grader at left guard, and Kline was claimed off the waiver pile and actually provided an upgrade at right guard after Chance Warmack’s injury.
The Titans were fortunate last season to stay mostly healthy, and will need to do so again to build off last year’s performance. But with a mostly young group returning intact, bright days appear to be ahead for Tennessee up front.
OLs currently on the roster: 15 _ C Ben Jones (6th season, Georgia); G Quinton Spain (3rd season, West Virginia); G Josh Kline (5th season, Kent State); T Taylor Lewan (4th season, Michigan); T Jack Conklin (2nd season, Michigan State); T/G Dennis Kelly (6th season, Purdue); G Sebastian Tretola (2nd season, Arkansas); G/C Tim Lelito (5th season, Grand Valley State); G/C Corey Levin (Rookie, UT-Chattanooga); T Brad Seaton (Rookie, Villanova); T Tyler Marz (1st season, Wisconsin); G/T Josue Matias (2nd season, Florida State); C Mark Spelman (Rookie, Illinois State); Jonah Pirsig (Rookie, Minnesota); Steven Moore (Rookie, California).
OLs projected on the 53-man roster: 8, plus 2 on practice squad.
Best storylines of camp/pre-season: Will there be any true competition beyond the race for backup spots; What becomes of Sebastian Tretola after a tumultuous past couple of months; Can Lewan and Conklin build on last season and continue to push their way toward the top as the NFL’s best bookend tackles.
Analysis: The only thing that this group needs to do among the starters is keep on keeping on after last season. Lewan, with his emotions now better in check, and Conklin are the best young set of tackles in the NFL and might be regarded as the best duo period if they can duplicate and add to last year’s effort. Jones’ presence in the middle was a underrated factor in the line’s emergence. Spain has developed into a solid left guard, and Kline is more than adequate at right guard, though the Titans probably had hopes that Tretola could challenge in camp. Instead, two off-field matters (the most recent a gunshot wound to the leg) have endangered the 2016 sixth-rounder’s roster spot. The Titans hedged their bet anyway by drafting Levin, who along with Seaton, might be practice squad candidates unless they can do enough to push vet backups like Kelly or Lelito aside.