- Associated Press - Thursday, May 8, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - With pass rushers like Jadaveon Clowney and J.J. Watt in the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans continue to make moves in an effort to protect their quarterback.

The Titans selected offensive tackle Taylor Lewan of Michigan at No. 11 overall Thursday night in the NFL draft, taking an offensive lineman with their top pick for a second year in a row. Last year they drafted right guard Chance Warmack and center Brian Schwenke, then signed veteran left guard Andy Levitre and revamped the interior of the offensive line.

General manager Ruston Webster said he learned an important lesson when working in Seattle. The Seahawks got so comfortable with left tackle Walter Jones that they didn’t protect themselves enough and when Jones was injured, Webster said they had no chance to replace him.

“The game starts at the line of scrimmage, and that’ something that we invested in last year,” Webster said. “I think it’s important that we keep that going.”

The Titans went into this draft with no immediate need on the offensive line. Nine-year veteran Michael Roos has a year left on his contract and has started all but one game since 2006 at left tackle for the Titans. Tennessee signed Michael Oher in March as their new right tackle with a four-year deal for $20 million but could get out of that deal after a year costing only $6 million.

Tennessee had its choice of quarterbacks to replace often-injured Jake Locker with only Blake Bortles unavailable and no trade offers that fit. So the Titans chose to bolster protection for the quarterback. Webster said Lewan was the top-rated player on their draft board and someone they saw among the top three left tackles available this year.

“It’s important that it’s somebody that can be long term, and I think Taylor can be that,” Webster said.

The Titans also see depth as crucial for a team trying to bounce back from a 7-9 season that led to Mike Munchak’s firing and the hiring of Ken Whisenhunt. The new coach noted the Chargers drafted D.J. Fluker at right tackle and needed him to play left tackle for a game last year.

“With our quarterback situation, that’s one of the things we felt like we had to solidify, and I’m very pleased Ruston felt strongly about that and I think that makes our football team better,” Whisenhunt said.

They certainly got size in Lewan who is 6-foot-7 and 309 pounds. Lewan started 49 straight games at left tackle at Michigan and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.79 seconds impressing the Titans. He was measured in 4.83 seconds at the NFL Combine.

Whisenhunt said he’s been impressed by Roos’ leadership and adapting to the different schemes the Titans will be running in his offense. But Lewan will come in and compete immediately.

“If he earns it, he’ll start,” Whisenhunt said.

Lewan already has faced Clowney once in the 2013 Outback Bowl and held the defensive star without a sack. But Clowney was left unblocked when Lewan thought another teammate was picking him up for a key play as South Carolina beat Michigan in a highlight replayed repeatedly since then.

Now Clowney, the top pick overall, is with division rival Houston ensuring they will meet twice a year.

“I played him before, and I can’t wait to play him again,” Lewan said. “He’s a great guy and he’s a better player. I can’t wait.”

Lewan said he has three assault charges pending from a confrontation Dec. 1 with Ohio State fans, and he told the Titans he was trying to break up something where he pushed a man. Webster said they addressed that with Lewan and talked about it again Thursday to be sure.

“Taylor is a tough guy,” Webster said. “I feel pretty comfortable that we’re going to get a solid guy here.”

This is the sixth time in seven years that Tennessee has gone offense with its top pick. The Titans ranked 22nd overall in the NFL in total offense last season, but Locker missed nine games last season due to injury and has missed 14 of his first 32 starts overall.

Asked if the Titans will consider a quarterback in the second round at No. 42 overall, Webster said they would keep an open mind.



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


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

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