Titans' offensive line wants to pick up where it left off, but knows it starts from zero

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The timing and synchronicity expected of an offensive line require a good deal of practice.

When there isn’t enough, we hear excuses around the league for early-season poor play up-front.

And there won't be enough, with no OTAs and no work in preseason games or joint workouts.LewanHands

Mike Vrabel isn’t an excuse-maker that way. Tell him the parameter and he will work within them to do things the best the Titans can.

Last year, his team had a shaky start on the offense line, with Taylor Lewan suspended for the first four games, Rodger Saffold starting slowly and a second-year guy who had floated through four previous stops in Jamil Douglas starting at right guard where a third-round pick was not ready. [Unlocked]

Things got significantly better as the season went on, with Lewan returning, Saffold improving and Nate Davis taking over for Douglas. They were protecting Ryan Tannehill after six weeks, who still got sacked too much, but threw way more effectively than Marcus Mariota. In five of his last six regular-season games, Derrick Henry averaged 149.3 yards per game.

“We have a very close-knit group,” Lewan said. “Guys that come to this team and leave his team, one thing that's been fairly consistent as guys comment on how close this offensive line is. For us, we've preached, ‘Hey, we need to start the season, the way we finished. Let's not start slow as we have in the past and get going and at the same time put 2019 in the rearview mirror and get ready to go in 2020.’ So we’re getting guys going here working on techniques, fundamentals.

“That’s what these first couple weeks (are) about. I'm pretty confident, being the third year in the same offense, that we have a huge opportunity here, especially as an offensive line to mold and gel fast and not have those hiccups. Whether it was me being suspended the beginning of the year or all the sacks in the beginning of the year, we have an opportunity to right those in and take advantage of our opportunities.”

It's very hard for a team or an element of a team to pick up where it left off and coaches always preach about starting over from zero, the need to build it all again. The offensive line will have to be a force in the opener at Denver when they are getting 1.5 points in Week 1 NFL odds considering they’ll be trying to slow Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Jurrell Casey.SaffoldVrabelHugBAL

“They’re just more comfortable with the system,” Vrabel said. “And hopefully (it’s a group) that we can elevate to that second and third level of learning, and having the looks, the awareness, and what's going on, and making the calls quicker and all those things.

"We have to take a mentality and a mindset that you're going to start back over with the installation, not going to gloss over anything too quickly. But I'm hopeful that the group in there can continue to play at a high level and give us a chance to be successful offensively.

Saffold was playing very well by season’s end.

I asked him about finding the balance between having confidence about how last year finished but maintaining the resolve to do everything over again.

“I kind of feel like it's more about using the past as confidence, ‘Hey, we have it on tape that we can do this, we've shown that we had the ability to do it,’” he said. “We didn't have OTAs this year so we didn't get to go over technique as much as we wanted to. And now I think it's just about understanding that, but having the humility to be like, ‘OK, I need to work hard all over again to achieve that.’

“Once again, I think that we're on the right foot with that. It's kind of like riding a bike. Once you're working with somebody for a certain amount of time you know you can get right back into it, and then it's just, what's the goal. So, for us, we just constantly want to get better daily, improvement, daily excellence. Just trying to get everything done time and time again, and then we're looking to be consistent, it’s one of the biggest things that you look for out of an offensive lineman. And I think that just working hard every single day is going to allow us to kind of start from where we left off.”

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