NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans' offensive linemen are tired of being pushed around.
Even left tackle Taylor Lewan says they were soft last season in a brutally honest assessment, and he's making it clear they intend to be this team's gritty foundation.
The Titans need them to be with a rookie at quarterback.
"As an offensive line, it starts with us," Lewan said. "We have to be the foundation of the offense, the foundation of the team. If we work together, play a little dirty, play a little over the line, play a little bit crazy and work together, I think we'll be really successful."
Strong words coming from someone with a mere six starts and 11 games played to his credit. Then again, the Titans drafted Lewan at No. 11 overall a year ago as just the latest piece in a hefty investment in the offensive line. They need to see some payoff this season with the linemen protecting an even bigger stake in Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
The Titans started revamping this offensive line in 2013, signing left guard Andy Levitre to a six-year, $46.8 million deal and drafting right guard Chance Warmack at No. 10 overall. They also drafted center Brian Schwneke in the fourth round that year and signed right tackle Michael Oher in 2014 to a four-year deal.
"We have the talent in the room," Lewan said.
But injuries swept through the line last season with four different starters at left tackle and three at right tackle. A knee injury sidelined Schwenke after 11 games, leaving only Levitre and Warmack to start every game in a miserable 2-14 season.
Ranked 29th in the NFL in total offense, the Titans struggled so much offensively they were forced to throw early and often. That allowed opposing defenses to delve even deeper during games, throwing schemes and looks that they rarely used in other games and further harassing the Titans.
Tennessee made further changes, cutting Oher early this offseason and signing free agent signee Byron Bell, who played left tackle at Carolina. They also drafted Jeremiah Poutasi in the third round out of Utah, and the men are competing to start at right tackle. Veteran Fernando Velasco also was signed in June to help provide experience able to play center and guard.
Schwenke said the offensive linemen have been talking about becoming this team's foundation since the end of last season. That's why they're working to handle their individual assignments properly first, then running downfield after the block to make a path for the running back.
"That's kind of ... attacking rather than being attacked mentality that we want," Schwenke said.
For an offensive line to attack, the linemen have to block well first for the run game. Experience with each other also builds chemistry, and four of the five starters — Lewan, Levitre, Schwenke and Warmack — have no excuses going into their second season with coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense.
"There wasn't any dropoff coming into camp," Warmack said. "We all picked up where we left off."
The Titans drafted Mariota at No. 2 overall believing he is the quarterback to help end a playoff drought that now is six seasons and counting since the last postseason berth in 2008. A rookie quarterback must have time to throw to his wide receivers and stay healthy. Three different quarterbacks started last season for Tennessee, and all three were hurt at some point.
So Lewan wants his fellow linemen harassing and bullying defensive linemen all the time. Play with a nasty attitude.
"If we get the right attitude, we can be an offensive line that nobody wants to play against," Lewan said.
Notes: The Titans scheduled a night practice Monday with Tuesday a day off. Whisenhunt said he wanted to work his team four days on, then use the mandatory day off before practicing four more days.
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