Rookie Radunz making the most of return to football

Friday, August 20, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 34

Offensive lineman Dillon Radunz, a second-round draft pick from North Dakota State who missed the 2020 season due to the pandemic, has impressed Titans coaches.

-- Photograph Courtesy Of Tennessee Titans

Welcome to the NFL and back to football, rookie. The switch from college football to the pros is an adjustment for any player. But when that player comes from the FCS level and only got to play one game his senior year due to COVID wiping out North Dakota State’s season, well, you get the idea that the adjustment could be a bit tough.

Dillon Radunz was the Titans second-round pick in the draft this spring, and despite not playing at the top level of college competition, many had him penciled in as the starting right tackle for 2021. After all, there was an opening, given that 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson had partied his way out of the NFL after an abysmal rookie season.

But as Radunz came to camp, Coach Mike Vrabel was quick to point out that the rookie had lots of areas to work through and improve upon.

One move made in camp was to also begin working Radunz at guard. Then, a couple of days before the Titans traveled to Atlanta for the preseason opener last week, Vrabel offered an endorsement, stating Radunz had caught his eye with steady improvement and was one of the players he was eager to see perform against the Falcons.

Radunz has been taking everything in stride and working to improve, no matter where he has been asked to line up.

“It’s been interesting, just learning all positions – left guard, right guard, left tackle, right tackle – and being able to get the coordination right on that right side and just learning how to play at the speed of the NFL,” he says. “There is a learning curve there, but I think I’m getting along quickly. I’m looking forward to continuing along that process.”

“That process” had Radunz starting at right guard in the preseason opener in Atlanta, then sliding over to right tackle, as the Titans did not start any of their incumbent starters on the offensive line against the Falcons. In all, Radunz got 50 snaps of action in his first game.

“It was fun. I’ve only played in like two games in the past two years,” he points out. “So every time I get to get on the football field, I count it as a blessing and being an NFL football field, that’s a huge blessing. And as the game went on, I definitely got more comfortable.”

Radunz knows jumping from North Dakota State to the NFL isn’t easy. To make that chore a little less formidable, he trained for the draft and in the offseason with former 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who retired after the 2019 season.

“Working with Joe, he’s got the same style offense that we do. The emphasis is being on the foot quickness and the hand speed. Being such a great player and him being a 13-year vet, who’s probably a future Hall of Famer, being able to learn from him is huge,” Radunz adds.

The rookie also made it a point to position himself in meeting rooms in the vicinity of veterans like left tackle Taylor Lewan and left guard Rodger Saffold.

“I sit right in front of Taylor and Rodger in meetings. Every single play, Rodger will lean over and give me tips and tricks here and there,” Radunz says. “I pick their brains and ask them how they move their hands and how they move their feet, what they’re thinking when they’re going into those blocks. It’s huge that we have those vets.

“Rodger is going into Year 12, Ben is going into Year 10, Taylor has been an All-Pro for ever-how-many years. Being able to pick their brains is awesome.”

Lewan offered a solid assessment of how much Radunz has improved in a short period.

“I think Dillon has done a good job of taking the coaching,” Lewan says. “It’s hard to practice here. This is a hard place to come in. These coaches expect a lot when we come in on the practice field.

“It’s not this walk-through type of thing. We go, and especially in individual, it’s a shock for anyone, no matter what school they came from. Dillon, the way he started and the way he’s going now, he’s made a lot of leaps. He’s had a better camp than I probably had my rookie year. I think he’s done a good job.”

There is still a long way to go for Radunz, who might not claim that right tackle spot at the start of the regular season, as many had predicted he would. It could be that the Titans end up going with a veteran like Ty Sambrailo, David Quessenberry or the (currently injured) Kendall Lamm to allow the rookie time to learn and grow.

Even so, Radunz said he is using his first camp, and the fact that he is playing both at guard and tackle, to his long-term advantage.

“It helps me learn the speed of the game, it helps with the nuances of the game, of being an interior offensive lineman and an exterior offensive lineman and stuff like that. Just being able to settle into a position in the future will be huge for me honing my skills,” Radunz says.