We continue our look at Titans training camp battles with the offensive line. You can read about the wide receiver battle here, and the cornerback battle here.
The competition on the offensive line will be mostly at the back-end of the roster. The starting line-up is more-or-less set, but the team lined up with 6 linemen fairly often last year. There will be a heated competition both for snaps and for spots on the final roster.
Returning Players: Taylor Lewan, Quinton Spain, Ben Jones, Josh Kline, Jack Conklin, Dennis Kelly, Sebastian Tretola
New Additions: Tim Lelito (FA), Corey Levin (draft), Brad Seaton (draft)
Mike: Offensive line was a strength last year for the Titans, and the starting group who played most of the season together all return. Continuity on the offensive line is a huge advantage, as few positions rely more on communication and choreographed adjustments than the dancing bears in the trenches.
So why is this a position battle to watch? Well for one, Josh Kline played pretty well last year after coming in for an injured Chance Warmack in Week 3, but he will have at least a little competition in camp for that right guard spot from Tim Lelito, Sebastian Tretola, and Corey Levin. I think Kline wins the starting gig, but Lelito is a guy with experience who started 20 games over the last two seasons as part of a very good Saints offensive line. His ability to play guard and center make him a valuable backup if he can’t wrestle the starting gig away from Kline. He also served as the Saints jumbo tight end a lot during his time there and we know how much the Titans loved using Dennis Kelly in that role last year.
Speaking of Kelly, I think he’s a virtual lock to be the 3rd tackle again this year. He performed his job better than anyone probably expected when called upon in the Green Bay game and the Colts game. Eagles GM Howie Roseman has probably blocked Jon Robinson’s cell number at this point.
The Titans kept 8 offensive linemen last year so that leaves one more spot for Tretola, Levin, or Seaton behind Lewan, Spain, Jones, Kline, Conklin, Kelly, and Lelito. My bet goes on Levin. I really like his skillset and even though he will face a HUGE jump in competition level coming from UT-Chattanooga to the NFL. He gets bonus points for having experience at center, guard, and tackle (and I do think he is athletic enough to credibly play tackle in a pinch if needed).
Seaton would be a great practice squad candidate if we can get him through. He obviously has great size and power, but his lateral quickness worries me at tackle in the NFL.
Tretola misses the cut for me but not for the obvious reasons. Yes, having two off-field incidents in one offseason is a bad look, but the assault case makes it pretty clear that Tretola was not the primary culprit and we have no idea if he even did anything wrong in the shooting incident. For all we know he was just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. I just don’t know if Tretola fits the mold of what the Titans want on the offensive line. The running game was extremely diverse last year which requires linemen who are at least decent enough athletes to be able to credibly pull and reach, and Tretola isn’t that guy to me. He’s very stiff and clumsy in space which limits his effectiveness both in the run game and pass protection. I just think Levin offers more position flexibility and long term upside.
Justin: I agree with most of Mike’s points on the offensive line competition.
I would be rather surprised to see Mularkey and co. disrupt the continuity of the starting five linemen. The offensive line is clearly a tight-knit group, and that was on full display during the Predators run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Throughout last season, the group got together every Thursday night at various restaurants and bars to watch Thursday Night Football together, rotating who picked the place... and picked up the tab.
Josh Kline is the weak link of the group, but he performed admirably replacing Chance Warmack after Warmack opted for season-ending surgery before Week 3. With a full offseason of being coached up by hall-of-fame lineman Russ Grimm, and a full training camp spent with his line-mates, Kline should easily “win” the starting right guard job.
Dennis Kelly returns to reprise his role as the swing tackle, but he’ll face competition for snaps this season in jumbo packages. Offseason signee Tim Lelito will likely takeover Brian Schwenke’s role as first guard off the bench, but he’ll also be Kelly’s primary competition for snaps at the jumbo tight end / 6th lineman.
Lelito has experience at both guard and center, but it appears the Titans are grooming 6th-round draft choice Corey Levin for the backup center role. Levin worked at both guard and center in the rookie minicamp, but he worked exclusively at center during OTAs.
The starting five (Lewan, Spain, Jones, Kline, Conklin), plus Kelly and Lelito, are virtual locks to make the roster. That means the backup linemen, Levin, Sebastian Tretola, and Brad Seaton, will be competing for one or two remaining spots.
The Titans only kept 8 offensive linemen last season, but most teams try to keep 9 guys if they can, especially in today’s NFL where quality linemen are so hard to find.
Considering that the Titans have drafted four offensive linemen in the past two drafts (Conklin, Tretola, Levin, Seaton), it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them stick with nine guys this year.
Brad Seaton is a monster of a human being. The Titans might try to place him on the practice squad, but I think a tackle-needy team would try to poach him. For that reason, I think Seaton will make the team.
Corey Levin and Sebastian Tretola are likelier candidates for the practice squad simply because the guard position isn’t nearly the barren wasteland that tackle is for most teams across the NFL right now.
If the Titans only keep 8 linemen again, it’s likely with the plan to re-sign both Levin and Tretola to the practice squad. If they keep nine, I would think Tretola goes back to the practice squad for another season, for the reasons listed above by Mike, but also because I think Levin has better physical tools, notably his athleticism, and would be more likely to be scooped up by another team.