Injuries leave Titans needing to build offensive line depth
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) When the Tennessee Titans traded 2015 second-round pick Dorial Green-Beckham to the Philadelphia Eagles this week, much of the focus was on what the team gave up.
The Titans instead saw Tuesday's trade as an attempt to solve what had quickly become a problem area because of two major injuries.
In exchange for Green-Beckham, the Titans received offensive lineman Dennis Kelly, who figures to be a top reserve at both tackle positions as well as guard once he acclimates himself to Tennessee's offensive system.
''I think just based on his skill set, he's big, he's smart, he's tough and he's versatile,'' general manager Jon Robinson said. ''He's played a lot of positions, so I think he'll be a nice added mix to that group.''
Kelly made 15 NFL starts at three different spots along the line during his time with the Eagles.
The Titans' need for added depth along the offensive front had come about primarily because of a gruesome leg injury suffered by veteran tackle Byron Bell during the team's offseason work.
Bell, who started eight games at right tackle, seven at left guard and one at left tackle for the Titans in 2015, had re-signed with the team and was supposed to swing between tackle and guard this season.
After Bell's injury, the Titans began working Josue Matias in that utility and liked the way the 2015 undrafted rookie free agent had been developing. Then, Matias suffered a partial patella tendon tear in his knee that required surgery, forcing Robinson to search for additional help.
''The biggest challenge is trying to learn the playbook,'' Kelly said. ''I felt real comfortable in Philly. It's just a whole different city, having to settle in, trying to get things settled. That's the biggest challenge.''
Though the Titans have not yet settled on all five starters on the line, the same group - Taylor Lewan at left tackle, Quinton Spain at left guard, Ben Jones at center, Chance Warmack at right guard and rookie Jack Conklin at right tackle - have had almost all of the training camp reps together.
Barring any changes, that leaves the Titans sifting through some unproven players, a couple of former starters and Kelly to find likely three backups to carry on the 53-man roster.
Besides Kelly, the most experienced player among the backups is Brian Schwenke.
Schwenke was the Titans' starting center for most of the past three years, but has been hit with major injuries. He is now learning to work at guard as well as center.
''A lot of it for me is trying to get those guard reps and growing as a player at guard,'' Schwenke said. ''I haven't played it in four years, so it's kind of (about) getting comfortable with that again.''
Schwenke played guard at California until his senior season in 2012 when he switched to center.
Another player switching positions is Jeremiah Poutasi. A third-round pick a year ago, Poutasi started the first seven games at right tackle, but was benched after Mike Mularkey took over as head coach. Poutasi is now trying to make the team as a backup guard.
The other players in the mix include second-year center/guard Andy Gallik, Will Poehls and rookie sixth-round pick Sebastian Tretola, a sixth-round pick. Poehls has spent the past two years on the practice squad.
There are still three more preseason games for the candidates to make an impression on the coaching staff. And even then, they will probably have to wait until after final cuts are made before they truly know their fate. The Titans have the top position among waiver claims and have already said they will use that to help shore up problem areas.
In the meantime, the work continues to find the right combination on the offensive line, both among the starters and reserves.
''They're working, and that's what this training camp is about,'' Mularkey said.
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