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VOL. 38 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 16, 2014

Finally! Titans build for future through the draft

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First-round pick Taylor Lewan of Michigan didn’t fill an immediate need for the Titans. But he will be expected to step in as a starter in 2015, replacing then-free agent Michael Roos.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

OK, admit it. There were a bunch of you scratching your heads after the Titans drafted Taylor Lewan with the 11th overall pick in the NFL Draft.

And there were some of you who were clamoring for the Titans to gamble on Johnny Football with that pick, simply for the fact that the Titans could add some sizzle to a franchise that’s been on a low flame for the past five years.

But after watching Ruston Webster and Ken Whisenhunt work through their first draft together with only six picks to work with at the start, it is clear that the Titans have a new approach and a different vision.

For too long, the Titans have seemingly lived draft day in the moment. But the selection of Lewan, though it had its detractors, seems to be signaling of a new era for the franchise.

When they first arrived in Tennessee in the late ‘90s, and even a bit before that, Floyd Reese and Jeff Fisher worked together to identify and draft a core group of players – Steve McNair, Eddie George, Jevon Kearse, Keith Bulluck and Albert Haynesworth among others. But as time went on, Titans drafts began to take on more of a plug and play type mentality.

They lost Kearse in free agency in 2004 and drafted Antwan Odom, Travis LaBoy and Bo Schobel, hoping that collectively they could replace “The Freak.” If you’ve followed the Titans for any period of time, you know how that turned out.

They tried in 2006 to find their new McNair/George combo, and it failed miserably with the choices of Vince Young and LenDale White. And don’t even get me started on Pacman Jones as a need pick in 2005.

Once Reese departed after 2006, the Titans drafts were mostly tepid under Mike Reinfeldt, with Michael Griffin and Chris Johnson among the few hits.

Maybe part of the Titans’ quick fix philosophy had to do with the desire to win for aging owner Bud Adams before he died. Adams passed away last October. His son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is now in charge of the organization, but delegates plenty of power to Webster.

Yes, the Titans are making changes to draft players that fit Whisenhunt’s passing-style offense and 3-4 defense. But the change in philosophy seems to go deeper. And Lewan’s selection is proof.

When their needed pass rusher, Anthony Barr, went to Minnesota two picks before the Titans, Webster and Whisenhunt didn’t flinch. They simply turned to their draft board, saw Lewan as the highest-rated player and chose him, bolstering the tackle position beyond Michael Roos’ scheduled exit next year.

They resisted the urge to roll with Manziel – I’m led to believe that Zach Mettenberger, their sixth-round pick, was actually rated higher on their board than Johnny Football – or reach for a lesser pass rusher just to fill the hole.

Instead, Webster & Co. opted for what they felt was the better player.

While they want to contend this year, the Titans seem to be committed to long-term viability. It is the way all the successful teams are run, including the Patriots, Steelers, Broncos, Colts, 49ers, Seahawks, Giants, Ravens.

Unlike the Titans, those teams are usually steady. They may slip for a season or so, but they usually find their way back into contention fairly quickly.

They don’t have three years of 8-8 or 7-9, followed by a single 13-3 spike, only to go back to being mediocre.

The Titans used to be that type franchise a decade or so ago, and Webster and Whisenhunt seem on paper to be setting in motion a way to not only return to that success level, but to maintain it.

Webster alluded to that after the draft, when the Titans didn’t come out of the weekend with any receivers, despite a lack of numbers at the position.

“Our motto is just to continue to keep scouting and trying to find players that can fit in for us,” Webster said.

Likewise, Whisenhunt is eager to fit the pieces together in the Titans’ system.

“I think we feel good, we said we feel good about the roster. I think the big thing for us is getting time on the field with our players because what you want to do is tailor what you do to fit the abilities of our players,” Whisenhunt said. “...I think we’ve got a good core group of guys. We’ve got some young guys that we get a chance to see what type of versatility they have, to talk to that point and that’s an exciting period of time.

“The next six weeks is the fun part. We’ve got the guys, now we get a chance to work with them.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.

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