Pressure on Titans' offensive linemen to protect rookie QB

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Nobody faces more pressure to keep the Titans' new investment in quarterback Marcus Mariota safe than Tennessee's offensive linemen.

And it's not like anyone will let them forget that either.

Titans center Brian Schwenke said know that they have to protect the quarterback, especially when it's a rookie and the No. 2 selection overall in the draft. That's something a player tucks away in the back of his mind so he can focus on playing hard.

''You hear more people talking about it than you're actually thinking about it,'' Schwenke said Wednesday. ''You hear coaches, `We got a rookie back there. You better block for him.' I just personally go out there and do my job.''

Protecting Mariota is only part of the pressure facing a unit that endured a slew of injuries last season and will feature two new tackles from a year ago. Three starters wound up on injured reserve, forcing the Titans to play seven different tackles while going 2-14.

''We need more stability with the whole group, more consistent play with the whole group,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ''As an offensive line, we had too many breakdowns.''

Changing lineups led to miscommunication.

Starting only five linemen for 16 games together is what coaches hope they can do each season. Tennessee didn't get that chance, instead starting 10 different players at least three games each on the offensive line. Six of those were at left and right tackle combined.

Left tackle Michael Roos, who retired in February, started only five games before a knee injury ended his season. Schwenke started the first 11 games before a knee injury put him on injured reserve. Right tackle Michael Oher started 11 games before a toe injury put him on injured reserve, and the Titans cut him in February despite three years left on his contract.

Taylor Lewan, the 11th draft selection overall in 2014, replaced Roos and started six games before an injured left ankle kept him out the final five weeks. Will Svitek had three starts at left tackle, Jamon Meredith started once at right tackle and twice at left tackle, and Byron Stingily had four starts at right tackle.

Terren Jones even played in a game five days after being signed last December.

So the Titans tried to revamp the unit this offseason. They signed veteran Byron Bell giving him the first chance at right tackle this offseason and drafted Jeremiah Poutasi in the third round out of Utah. Center Andy Gallik was a sixth-round pick out of Boston College. Whisenhunt says Poutasi and Meredith will get a chance to show what they can do at right tackle as well.

''We're going to look at a number of guys,'' Whisenhunt said. ''We want to get them enough reps so we're not just playing exchange a player there the whole presesason. For now, we're trying to get a feel for these guys.''

Familiarity will help with this the second year in Whisenhunt's offense all the linemen who played here in 2014. But being healthy is the biggest key.

Andy Levitre started all 16 games at left guard but was limited after having an appendectomy the day before the Titans opened training camp. He also dealt with other nagging injuries the past two offseasons, and Whisenhunt said Levitre has been healthy this year.

Schwenke also says he's healthy, and he's wearing a brace on each knee to make sure he stays that way after having someone roll up on his knee last season.

''It's worth it just to stay on the field for a full season,'' Schwenke said.

Notes: Mariota, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and running back David Cobb all will miss Thursday's organized team activity. They will be part of a rookie premiere event in Los Angeles.

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Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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