INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – If you don’t have a quarterback, you’ve got little to build on in today’s NFL. Titans general manager Ruston Webster realizes that’s priority #1 for his team this offseason.
“For us to move forward the quarterback position has to be settled with someone you can build around,” Webster said while addressing reporters on the opening day of the 2015 Scouting Combine. “Until you get that quarterback position settled, you’re swimming up stream.”
The Titans have a quarterback, soon to be second-year signal caller Zach Mettenberger. As a sixth-round pick in 2014, Mettenberger threw for 1,395 yards and eight touchdowns in six starts.
Tennessee also owns the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. That guarantees the Titans an option to select one of the top-rated quarterbacks in Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota (or both should Tampa Bay opt to not draft a QB).
Now comes the decision making process, one in which the Titans plan to explore all of their options.
“I think (Winston and Mariota) are two very good players,” Webster said. “We are in very good position. These two guys have unique skill sets. We are looking at those two, plus others.”
Both Winston and Mariota will interview with the Titans, giving Tennessee a full 15 minutes to learn as much as possible about the two top quarterbacks in the draft. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who also spoke Wednesday from Lucas Oil Stadium, said the initial interview at the combine would not lead to any decisions.
This week will be the first of many meetings between the Titans, Winston and Mariota.
“That 15 minutes is just a part of the process,” said Whisenhunt. “When you’re talking about the number two pick, whether it’s a quarterback or another position, the process the next couple of months is about spending time with them and finding out a lot about them.
“You’ve got to spend a lot of time with these guys to understand how they process things, how they handle different situations, what they’re thinking about when they get to the line of scrimmage.”
In regards to Winston, Webster said he looks forward to getting to know the Florida State quarterback himself. Winston’s off-field headlines have certainly altered his public perception, but the Titans will give him every opportunity to prove he’s capable of leading an NFL team.
“Jameis -- and with any player -- you have to do your research,” said Webster. “You have to know the reality of the situation and don’t go along with perception. Give the player, I don’t want to say benefit of the doubt, but do your research. We have done a lot of work on Jameis.”
Webster and Whisenhunt said they have both been in contact with Mettenberger throughout this process. Both like Mettenberger, but are unwilling to commit to him at this point in the process.
The decision comes down to where Mettenberger ended his season compared to where Winston and Mariota are today. Mettenberger understands where he stands with the organization and is ready to compete for his job in the offseason.
“I think Zach is aware of what’s in front of him,” said Whisenhunt. “I think he knows what he needs to do in terms of working and preparing. He also has to understand what this process is all about. Zach is very motivated because of where he was drafted based off of what he thinks of himself and I like that.”
There are other players worthy of the number two pick besides the quarterbacks. USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams is widely heralded as the best player in the draft class. His versatility around the defensive line, ability to rush the passer and stymie a running game is why many think the Titans take Williams in the draft.
Webster discussed his opinion of Williams on Wednesday.
Titans brass continues the evaluation process at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. (Photos: Gary Glenn, AP)
“When you think of a three-four defense, typically you think of a big two-gap player,” he said. “It’s rare to find players that can do that; play one gap, penetrate and get up the field and rush the passer. When you have a guy like Leonard who can do both, that’s something special.”
The Titans general manager said the team's salary cap is in "good shape," giving Tennessee flexibility to spend in free agency.
Wide receivers Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas are the most talked about free agents, but outside linebacker Justin Houston is the top defensive player set to become a free agent. Houston led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2014, his fourth season with the Chiefs.
Webster tempered any expectations that the Titans are going to be big spenders once free agency begins in March.
“I don’t think you can turn your team around in free agency unless you have an outstanding quarterback,” he said. “You have to hold with guys that fit with your offense and defense and then move on to draft. Our cap room is good. Vin Marino, who handles that for us, has done a good job. We’re in good shape. The guys who are going to take us to the next level will be drafted first.”