NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mild-mannered on a phone line, Taylor Lewan is expected to be anything but on the line of scrimmage.
The Tennessee Titans selected Lewan with the 11th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft on Thursday.
Lewan was one of 30 prospects invited to attend festivities at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Moments after the announcement, Lewan joined a conference call with Nashville media that was accidentally disconnected. Even though the lost connection wasn’t his fault, Lewan made sure he apologized to members of the media. He also explained his reputation for having a mean streak on the gridiron.
Lewan said he’s tried to earn the tough reputation “by playing nasty and playing through the whistle and trying to put guys in the dirt every single time.”
“I don’t care if it’s (2014 top overall pick Jadeveon) Clowney or some slappy on third team, I don’t care who I’m going against,” Lewan said. “I’m going to play at the level I need to play at, no matter what.”
Titans general manager Ruston Webster said Lewan has displayed more than toughness.
“I think he’s smart, athletic and tough to the point that he has a nasty streak,” Webster said.
The selection of Lewan is part of a multi-year rebuild for the offensive line that included free agent signings of guard
Although Roos and Oher have collectively missed one game out of a possible 224 regular season starts (143 out of 144 for Roos, 80 out of 80 for Oher), Webster said there were multiple reasons to draft Lewan.
“He was on a different level than the other guys on our board,” Webster said. “My experience has been it’s very difficult to find left tackles and when you get one, a guy that can play left tackle in the National Football League, you have to do it. We were very happy that he was still there.”
New Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said Lewan will have an opportunity to earn a starting spot this year.
“I think we get a chance to see that. That’s what OTA’s and training camps are all about,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s a versatile guy. I know that he’s played left tackle. The offensive line is an important position. You can never have enough of those guys. It’s important to cross train guys especially if you are only going to have seven active on game day.”
Lewan recorded 362 “key blocks/knockdowns” and 55 “touchdown-resulting blocks” and said it was important for him to return for his senior season. He became the ninth Wolverines offensive lineman to be a four-year starter in Michigan history.
“Being in the position I am now, I knew if I did the things I had to do I could be here today,” Lewan said. “I really wanted to get that extra year to spend time with those guys and be somebody that people could say was one of the better players that’s ever played at Michigan and be part of that culture with the Jake Longs and Jon Jansens. I’m thrilled, ecstatic and so happy.”
Lewan said he wasn’t sure when he’d be picked or by whom, but he did say he enjoyed the pre-draft visit he made to Saint Thomas Sports Park to meet with team officials.
“I knew when I came to Nashville and talked to them, it was an unbelievable experience, just the feeling of the city and the town, being around everybody,” Lewan said. “I really couldn’t have gone to a better place not just because of football but because of everyone around it.”
Clowney was SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011, was first-team All-America and All-SEC in 2012 and had 130 tackles (85 solo), 47 tackles for loss and 24 sacks in three seasons with the Gamecocks.
Jacksonville, however, opted for offense and selected Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles from the third overall spot. The selection of Bortles occurs three years after the Jaguars drafted QB Blaine Gabbert from the 10th overall spot in 2011. Jacksonville traded Gabbert to San Francisco this offseason.
Bortles was named All-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 after throwing for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns. He and Daunte Culpepper are the only two UCF quarterbacks to throw for more than 3,000 yards in multiple seasons.
Indianapolis did not have a first-round selection because it sent the pick to Cleveland in exchange for Trent Richardson last season. The Browns eventually traded up from that 26th spot to 22nd to select Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel.
PAST & FUTURE MATCHUPS: Lewan and Clowney previously played each other in the Outback Bowl after the 2012 season, and could have several matchups in the pros.
“I’ve played him before and can’t wait to play him again,” Lewan said. “He’s a great guy and an even better player, so I can’t wait.”
FIRST-ROUND BREAKDOWN: Of the 32 picks, 14 were offensive players (three QBs, five WRs, 1 TE and five tackles) and 18 were defenders (five defensive linemen, four linebackers and nine defensive backs).