NASHVILLE (AP) — The Titans’ extreme makeover of their offensive line is complete for now.
Veteran Rob Turner has won the job as Tennessee’s starting center after beating out incumbent Fernando Velasco, who was waived in the final roster cut down. That makes Turner the third new starter between the tackles in a unit coach Mike Munchak plans to lean on heavily starting Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Coach Mike Munchak said Monday they knew having three new starters on the offensive line was a possibility as they worked to improve the line where injuries sidelined four starters last season. Helping the transition is that both left guard Andy Levitre and Turner have plenty of NFL experience with right guard Chance Warmack the only rookie.
Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman as a player himself, sounds very confident in his new offensive line.
“I think when it all plays out that it’s going to be a strength of this football team how we play up front,” Munchak said.
Turner has been in the league since 2007, and he has played in 57 games over six seasons. He got most of his experience as a starter last season with St. Louis where he started 16 games, including nine at center. He beat out Velasco, who started 13 games at center last season after starter Eugene Amano tore a tricep muscle in training camp.
The Titans rotated Turner with Velasco and veteran Chris Spencer, another free agent signee, during the preseason. Rookie Brian Schwenke, the fourth-round pick out of California expected to be Tennessee’s center of the future, missed too much time this preseason with a sore left hamstring.
Turner wound up starting three of the four preseason games, and his play helped him win the job. The Titans chose Spencer to back up both center and guard, leaving Velasco the odd man out at a savings of $1.4 million to the Titans on his contract.
Munchak said they like Turner’s size at 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds. Turner also helps command the huddle well, which Munchak said will be a help to quarterback Jake Locker. The coach also compared Turner to former center Kevin Mawae with the veteran tricks the lineman knows.
“It’s good for him,” Munchak said. “It’s a tough deal when three guys, really four we felt could all play the spot.”
Left tackle Michael Roos and right tackle David Stewart are the only starters who remain from last season. Levitre said all the work with Turner during the preseason means they are on the same page, making for an easier transition into the regular season.
Warmack, the 10th draft selection overall out of Alabama, said he feels comfortable working beside Turner.
“I’m the youngest one on the line age-wise and experience-wise,” Warmack said. “I’m looking at everybody. How they use their technique and what adjustments they make on the line. I’m learning from everybody, Rob most of all because I’m playing right next to him.”
The offensive linemen also know the expectations Munchak has for them in an offense that will be run-oriented with Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene.
“We want to be that group our offense looks up to,” Levitre said. “‘Hey, we need to play like these guys.’ That’s kind of how we came into training camp as being that group like, ‘Man these guys get after people. We want to be like these guys.’ We want the guys in this locker room to see us as the leaders.”
Titans Tidbits: Munchak also announced that veteran Alterraun Verner will be their starting cornerback opposite Jason McCourty against Pittsburgh. Verner beat out Campbell after competing throughout the offseason and preseason. ... WR Kendall Wright now has practiced two straight sessions after missing the last two preseason games. LB Akeem Ayers is expected to return to practice Wednesday. ... The Titans also signed QB Rusty Smith to the practice squad after releasing him in the final cuts.
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