It took the Tennessee Titans offensive line about half the season or so to jell into the unit that helped propel the club to the AFC Championship Game in 2019.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan blamed himself and the four-game suspension he had to start the season, as big reason it took so long for the offensive line to come together.
“I think the biggest thing that’s going to help with all of that stuff is me not getting suspended. I think that’s probably a huge one. You sign a guy to a multi-year deal … and then he misses the first four games. We bring in Rodger Saffold, he’s expecting to play with me all the way up until camp,” Lewan said in a Zoom conference call Thursday. “Dennis Kelly and Jack Conklin are fighting for the right tackle spot, and then all of a sudden Dennis (Kelly) it’s like, ‘Hey, now you’ve got to go and play left.’ I definitely threw a wrench in that thing.
“But that probably is a big deal to have a slower start happen. When I came back – I think those guys did a great job in those first four games. Obviously, ups and downs, and kind of mixing and matching people here and there.”
Once the offensive line came together, it helped Derrick Henry win the rushing title and gave Ryan Tannehill enough time to throw to be able to lead the league in yards per attempt last season.
So with the coronavirus pandemic having kept players out of team facilities this off-season, what can the Titans line do to maintain the chemistry and cohesion that finally surfaced last year late in the season?
“To continue that is just keeping an open line of communication. Like I said, this offensive line is extremely tight. These guys just really know how to work together. Rodger (Saffold) and I are really starting to figure each other out,” Lewan said. “By Week 7, I think it was right after the Carolina game, things really started to turn around for us, which is extremely – that’s not good to be halfway through the season and then start to figure it out. But another year of playing together, me not getting suspended is a big one, and then making sure that the boys stay on top of it. Like I said, we keep an open line of communication. It sounds like everybody is working out really hard. We know what we can be for this team. We know that as a group we have an opportunity to do something special, and not only as individuals, but the continuity of the offensive line and the entire offense itself.
“We take a lot of pride in the rushing title. We take a lot of pride in keeping (Ryan) Tannehill upright. It’s become personal for us to become one of the best offensive lines in the league and make that sort of a goal, and I know that’s a huge goal in our room right now.”
Saffold said he felt the line coming together as last season went on.
“I think it came down to confidence and kind of letting go and playing the game,” Saffold said. “We really wanted to put ourselves in position to win more games, and sometimes we could have been trying to be too perfect instead of going with the flow.
“I’d say it was probably after the Denver game that we just started clicking, and when you start seeing success, you build off it. The great thing about this offensive line is that no matter how much people tell us we’re good or tell us we’re bad, we’re constantly coming into work to better ourselves. I think having that kind of growth mindset really helped us to be consistent all the way through for the rest of the season.”
Some of the offensive linemen are working out together in a garage, according to Lewan until players are permitted to return to St. Thomas Sports Park.
“We’ve found a little garage. Don’t worry, we’re six feet away, we’ve got our masks on, we’ve got all the hand sanitizer in the world. We’re taking care of ourselves. We’re getting the work in, we’re getting what we need. Getting the conditioning we need and doing speed drills, and getting the weights in. We’re doing all that,” Lewan said.
The line returns intact except at right tackle, where Conklin moved on to Cleveland as a free agent. His spot will now be between Kelly and rookie first-round pick Isaiah Wilson.
The Titans left tackle also made a point of saying that it is time for him to grasp more of a leadership role as he enters his seventh NFL season.
“I think if I was the coaches right now I’d be pretty pissed off that I haven’t taken on a leadership role yet. I think I’ve done a poor job of stepping up as a leader, and that’s been by choice and a little more by fear than anything else because of how I’ve been bit in the past trying to think, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be something I’m not.’ Just like I said before, realizing who I am and realizing what I can bring to the table is really important. I owe it to this team to be a better leader,” Lewan said.