NASHVILLE – Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold have started a season together. They also have finished a season together.
What they have not done is go from start to finish as the left side the Tennessee Titans’ offensive line.
Maybe the third time is a charm. At least that is what they hope.
“I think he and I are very excited to play a full season together, finally,” Lewan said. “I definitely have not helped out with that the last two years.”
Tennessee signed Saffold as a free agent in 2019 with the idea that he would pair well with Lewan, a three-time Pro Bowler who the Titans drafted 11th overall in 2014. Both are uncommonly athletic for men their size. Each has an outsized passion for the sport. Durability was not a particular concern with either one.
The dawn of their partnership was delayed when Lewan served a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. It was abbreviated in 2020 when Lewan sustained a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game.
As a result, they have played together for just 17 out of a possible 32 regular-season games. By comparison, over the prior two years (2017-18), Lewan played 28 games alongside left guard Quinton Spain while Saffold missed just two games over his final three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams (2016-18).
Even so, Lewan and Saffold have forged a meaningful working relationship.
“We’re doing a good job feeding off each other … with combos in the run game,” Saffold said. “And when it comes to the pass game, we already know what each other’s thinking. So, as soon as I hear his voice, I know what’s coming. I know what to do. And he knows that if he hears anything from me, he can play off of me as well.
“So, I’m excited for this third year to work with him.”
Based on the results, everyone associated with the franchise should feel the same way. The Titans are 12-5 when they have had Lewan and Saffold together – even if it was not for the entire contest – plus 2-1 in the playoffs. Without Lewan, they have gone 8-7 in the regular season, 0-1 in the postseason.
Running back Derrick Henry surged to the first of his back-to-back rushing titles following Lewan’s return to action in 2019 and began his defense of that title in 2020 with the best start of his career (he had 588 yards and six rushing touchdowns through the first five weeks).
“We both love to bring energy to the huddle,” Saffold said. “Having (Lewan) there with me, having two and three and four guys doing that in the huddle we can definitely bring people along. He’s always been a great conditioned player. So, when it comes to running downfield seeing two or three of us doing it instead of seeing one or two of us doing it, you start to see it pulling the offense along.”
Lewan’s practice time was limited through the first part of training camp as he continued his recovery from surgery to repair the knee injury that cut short his 2020 campaign. His workload has increased steadily as Sunday’s opener against the Arizona Cardinals at Nissan Stadium approached. The two also got 11 plays together in the final preseason contest against the Chicago Bears.
In some ways, though, it is as if they been joined at the hip for much a long time.
“Rodger and I have our own language that we use whether it’s a pass play or a run play,” Lewan said. “Whether I’m making a fake call or a real call, Rodger knows what I’m doing. … It’s great to practice with him. The more individual, the more reps we get together the better we’re going to be.”
Imagine what they could do with an entire season together.