NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Taylor Lewan has a big personality to match his mammoth frame.
The 6-foot-7, 309-pound offensive lineman freely calls himself a goofball, but when it’s time to get to work, he’s all business. And he’s been no slouch – in just his second season with the Titans, already Lewan is beginning to establish himself as one of the NFL’s top left tackles.
Goofy, gritty and good. Spend time around Lewan and it’s easy to see he has all the characteristics of a natural born leader, and with the Titans, he’s well on his way to filling that role.
Yet he’s taking a different approach than he did when thrust into a similar situation while at the University of Michigan. Lewan said he learned from his mistakes of the past, and vowed not to repeat them.
“I was a terrible leader in college, I really was,’’ Lewan said. “It’s sad to say, really. I was put into a situation where I was told what to do, and I kind of lost my identity of my own self, and my own personality my senior year. I hate it. I tried to be something I wasn’t, and I was getting on guys all the time and talking down to people. I didn’t like who I was as a quote-unquote leader. And I won’t be like that again.”
Despite having just 13 NFL games – and only eight starts – under his belt, Lewan has taken on more of a leadership role with the Titans, in part because coach Ken Whisenhunt and others asked him to do more in that regard. He’s handled it with a different approach.
“I will say something if a guy is not working hard and doing his job,’’ Lewan said. “But I am a real positive guy, I like to live positively.
“Leadership is not about pushing people down, it’s about helping them up. I was talking to Whis on the plane the other day, and I said to him, 'If a coach has to lead a team, then they are bound to fail.' It has to be the guys in the locker room, and I am not saying that is me. We have some old savvy vets in the locker room that are making us better. Just to be mentioned as one of the leaders is an honor.”
On the field, Lewan is a tone-setter. His style of play got the attention of his teammates immediately after the team drafted him in the first round a year ago.
He hasn’t let up since.
It’s part of the reason a player like 10-year veteran Delanie Walker viewed him differently from the start. Lewan is just 24 years old, but he’s already earned the respect of those around him.
Titans Online looks at the 2014 season of Taylor Lewan, who became the first Titans/Oilers rookie to start at least six games at left tackle since Brad Hopkins in 1993. (AP Photos)
“Since I have been in the NFL for 10 seasons, an offensive lineman has always been a leader,’’ Walker said. “I think he sees himself in that role. He plays like it. He plays tough every play. And that’s what you want. I always say this: Offensive linemen need to be dogs. I like them dirty, nasty, and he fits that role. And I think that is why we get along so well, because I have that mindset.
“But Taylor is a guy other players look to, no doubt.”
Following the team’s 28-14 loss to the Browns on Sunday, rookie right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi got a pep talk during and after the game from Lewan. Poutasi struggled in protection, and was down on himself.
Lewan did his best to lift his spirits, Poutasi said.
“He has done a great job as a leader, he is a very positive person. He communicates well with other people,’’ Poutasi said of Lewan. “He works his butt off every day, and that speaks for itself. He wants to be great, and you can see that. Everybody respects Taylor as a leader.”
Whisenhunt was asked earlier this month which player would be best-suited to run for mayor in the Titans locker room. With a smile, he offered up Lewan.
But the head coach later turned serious when discussing Lewan’s role in changing the culture inside the locker room following a year when the team finished 2-14.
“He is one of your better football players, and I think it is always important that those players, especially ones who are talented and work hard, are an important piece of (leading the way). I think it’s a good thing,’’ Whisenhunt said.
“The one thing you respect is the guy is a talented football player and he works hard every day, and he has played well for us.”
Lewan admits a part of him is a little uncomfortable being talked about as a leader on a team with players more experienced than himself. While he welcomes the responsibility, it’s evident he also doesn’t want to slight his veteran teammates.
It’s clear, though, the Titans view him in as one of the cornerstones of the team.
Case in point: On Thursday, a mammoth photo of Lewan was unveiled on the east side of Nissan Stadium. He joined defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, cornerback Jason McCourty and receiver Kendall Wright on the side of the stadium.
Lewan sounded flattered. He’s also the featured Titan on the team’s weekly radio show, “Titans Tonight,” with Mike Keith.
“I have never been on the side of a building before, so it’s a pretty cool thing to happen,’’ he said with a smile. “But seriously, it is just more responsibility for me to represent the Tennessee Titans the way I am supposed to do it. I am happy to be playing here, and glad I have the respect of the (organization).”
While fans will see a larger-than-life Lewan on the side of the stadium, Lewan knows his teammates will be watching him every day.
In his mind, that’s where he can really establish himself as the leader on the football team. In the long run, his actions, and his play, will speak the loudest.
“To be honest, it is kind of weird to be interviewed on a leadership piece because to be a leader is not to talk about yourself, but to talk about the guys in the room,’’ Lewan said. “I am only as good as the guys around me. We have a long way to go as a team, and I have a long way to go as a leader.”
Hearing that makes a veteran like guard Byron Bell respect Lewan even more.
“He is a good guy, No.1,’’ Bell said of Lewan. “From talking to him, it seems like his parents did a good job raising him. He has a good perspective on things.
“Hey, the guy was drafted in the first round, and he is going to be here a while. He is expected to step up and be a vocal leader. He will be here for a while and he has to establish himself. You have to earn respect in this league, and the way he works every day, I think he’s done that. He is earning his keep for sure.”