NASHVILLE – It appears Dillon Radunz’s time is drawing near at last.
The Tennessee Titans’ second-round pick hasn’t played an offensive snap in the first five games, despite the fact a number of the team’s offensive linemen have been in and out of the lineup due to injury.
In last Sunday’s win over Jacksonville, the coaches went with Corey Levin – who’d earlier in the week been signed from the practice squad – when starting left guard Rodger Saffold had to leave the game with an injury.
But Radunz’s status may be on the verge of changing, according to offensive line coach Keith Carter.
“I think he’s next man up,” Carter said Tuesday. “Hopefully we can start to stay healthy and not be a triage unit out on the football field up front. But he’s close. He’s going to get an opportunity here shortly.”
So why wasn’t Radunz used last week when Saffold went out?
Though he was drafted as a tackle, the North Dakota State product had done extensive cross-training during training camp and the preseason, playing a lot of guard as well as tackle. Carter explained that the majority of Radunz’s work – at both spots – has been on the right side, while Levin had gotten more practice reps last week as Saffold’s back-up.
“We just felt like where the practice reps went last week, and all those types of things, that Corey was going to give us the best chance to win,” Carter said. “But I think Dillon is right there.”
The current practice week might look different if the Titans determine Saffold is best served by missing some time. Bothered by shoulder/neck injuries, as well a concussion in recent weeks, Saffold has failed to finish three of the past four games.
So, the possibility exists that Radunz could shift his attention to left guard, giving him a full practice week – with one extra day because the next game is Monday night against Buffalo – to acclimate to the position.
“I think we’ve just got to continue to get (Radunz) reps on both sides,” Carter said. “He’s got big shoes to fill because he doesn’t exactly have one single home right now.
“So, I think moving forward, he’s got to be ready to do that. I just want to make sure we give him the correct preparation to give him the best chance to be successful. That’s about where (we are) right now and where it’s leading to.”
Radunz logged a lot of action during the preseason, playing 50 snaps in the first preseason contest, 62 in the second and 80 in the third. His overall Pro Football Focus grade was 70.9 for those three games – 77.6 on his run-blocking snaps and 46.0 on his pass-blocking snaps.
The 6-foot-6, 301-pounder, whose college team played just one game during his senior season, struggled at times in training camp but showed gradual improvement. Radunz consistently has earned praise for his work ethic and attitude despite the fact he has only been active for two games.
“He is really working hard, working really hard at his craft,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “He’s been picking the brain of the veterans, trying to learn and absorb as much as he can. He’s got a great attitude. He’s hungry to learn. I’m looking forward to continue to work with him.”
Saffold is far from the only Titans offensive lineman dealing with injuries. Two reserves – Aaron Brewer and Daniel Munyer – are on injured reserve. Left tackle Taylor Lewan is only now starting to feel like his old self again after returning from ACL surgery. Center Ben Jones sat out 13 snaps in Week Four with a shoulder injury. And backup tackle Ty Sambrailo retired Tuesday after missed Sunday’s game with a foot injury.
The offensive line rotation likely has been a contributing factor to issues with pass protection. Tennessee has surrendered a league-high 20 sacks in five games, five fewer than it allowed in all of 2020.
“Just being able to keep the same guys on the field, from the flow of the game and stuff, is important,” Carter said. “Every week, it’s a fight. Injuries happen. The more we play next to each other, the more confidence we build. If the injuries have done anything, it hurts the growth from a confidence standpoint.”
Here’s what Carter had to say about three other starting offensive linemen aside from Saffold:
• LT Taylor Lewan’s progress: “I think Taylor for sure last week, I felt like he started to really get his confidence back, and got into the flow of the game, started having fun again. No one would have predicted how this season started with Arizona and then obviously Seattle and stuff like that. It was fun watching him kind of get into his groove and gain confidence as that game went on last week. Hopefully we can continue that momentum moving forward and I think we’ll be in good shape.”
• C Ben Jones’ toughness: “Coaching this game and at this level, you’re around a lot of tough people. But I’ve never been around anybody as tough as Ben. I don’t want to jinx him, but I’m going to tell you what. My hat goes off to him. I have more respect for him than I could possibly say in words. He is the toughest son of a gun, man. He is just made of the right stuff. He gets a chip on his shoulder, like … fighting through pain, not being helped off the field, getting back up, that is a source of self pride for him, as we can all tell and witness with our own eyes. He is tougher than hell, man.”
• RG Nate Davis’ struggles: “He got hurt in fall camp and since then has been healthy. I was really happy with how he played last week. He’s kind of coming back and getting better each week. I know he struggled versus the Jets as we all did. But I thought he moved the line of scrimmage really well last week … He took a good step in the run game and we’ve just got to keep building his confidence in protection.”