When Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan took the podium after Friday’s Training Camp practice to talk with reporters about his brand new contract extension, he was joined by every offensive lineman on the team’s roster.
The display was certainly intended on Lewan’s end to be comedic, but it really spoke to the close bond that the unit has developed over the past few seasons.
Continuity is an important aspect of the game of football. It’s why some fans and media members were leery of the Titans’ decision to part ways with Mike Mularkey after just two years.
If there’s one area of the Titans’ roster that boasts continuity, it is certainly the offensive line. After years of the unit being in shambles during the Ruston Webster regime, the unit has remained consistently stable ever since Jon Robinson took over as general manager.
Lewan’s new extension was obviously the biggest story to come out of Friday’s practice. It will pay him $80 million dollars over the next five seasons, making him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history.
It was certainly good for the Titans that the deal got done this quickly—it was becoming a major distraction. But more than that, it solidifies the offensive line continuity that GM Robinson has worked so hard to maintain ever since he took over.
I asked Vrabel how it helps the transition into a new offense having the same five offensive lineman. He noted that the presumed starters have improved even since mini-camp, and that continuity is a plus.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) July 26, 2018
Robinson inherited Lewan and guard Quinton Spain when he took over as general manager, but he made distinct efforts in his first year to bolster the other three positions. He signed center Ben Jones in free agency, claimed guard Josh Kline off of waivers from the Patriots, and drafted tackle Jack Conklin with the eighth overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.
While there is a bit of competition with Spain at the left guard spot heading into the regular season, it seems likely that the Titans will have the same five starting offensive linemen this season.
Head coach Mike Vrabel noted that, despite the group’s comfort level with each other, they are continuing to work towards improvement. “I think that there’s some continuity among the players, but they’re an improved group. I think they needed to improve, they knew they needed to improve. That group is continuing to develop.”
Ben Jones echoed this idea when I asked him about the importance of his unit’s continuity. “It’s a new offense, a new everything, so we’re all learning and working hard every day. But it helps. You trust the guy beside you and you know that when something’s not right, your brother’s got your back. They can relay a call for you or anything like that. When you play beside each other it helps, because the more you do it, the more you feel comfortable playing beside each other.”
Ever since Lewan broke out in the 2016 season to make his first career Pro Bowl, he has been absolutely adored by Titans fans. His rise from an inconsistent loose cannon to an elite franchise cornerstone has been well documented, and it really seemed to begin once the Titans gave him counterparts that he could develop continuity with.
Lewan on continuity and his love for his teammates. pic.twitter.com/LZujopM9mW
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) July 27, 2018
It became clear when Lewan and his teammates entered the media area to the “Dukes of Hazzard” theme song with Lewan dressed as Boss Hogg that Friday was a day of celebration for the Titans.
When I asked Lewan about continuity, he re-affirmed just how much his teammates mean to him. “I think that’s really special. There’s not a lot of times where you see the same offensive line together for three years. You know, I love these guys and getting the opportunity to play with them. We’ve got a great group of guys here. We did all of this as a joke but in all seriousness, this is unbelievable. You aren’t going to find a better O-line group, that’s for sure.”
The biggest turning point of Lewan’s career came just before the 2016 season when it was reported that the Titans were contemplating selecting Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil with the first overall pick of the draft. On Friday, Lewan identified that situation as being one where he really took charge of his career and his place on the Titans roster.
“I walked in [Jon Robinson’s] office—we had hardly met—and I looked him in the eyes and told him that the first overall pick’s a lot of money to be spending on a right tackle. I think he really respected that and I came in and played as hard as I could and these guys helped me out the rest of the way.
In less than three years, the Titans have gone from throwing street free agents like Will Svitek to the wolves, to boasting one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The talent improvement has clearly been a major aspect of the turnaround, but today it became very clear that consistency and continuity have also played a monumental role.
For the Titans to have success in 2018 under new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, they will need to lean upon their offensive line. It’s a group with a lot of talent and, now, a pretty high price tag.
Cover image via Titans Online.