NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With a combination of size, athleticism, youth and experience, The Titans' offensive line has been widely regarded as one of the NFL's best overall units entering the 2014 season.
Veteran guard Andy Levitre (appendectomy) returned last week, putting the unit at full strength prior to Saturday's preseason opener vs. Green Bay. The team has monitored Levitre's reps through his first few practices, but the sixth-year guard is yet to feel anything resembling a setback.
Titans Online looks at the offensive linemen on the team's roster at the start of the 2014 training camp. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
"I thought I did okay in Atlanta and continued to get better today," Levitre said after Wednesday's practice. "I still have a lot of work to do, but as long as I'm continuing to grow each day that's all I can ask for"
Levitre spent his first four seasons as a pro in Buffalo before signing with the Titans as a free agent in 2013. He hasn't missed a single start in any of those five seasons. That clean bill of health has made it no surprise that Levitre returned to camp quicker than some anticipated.
"In terms of my stomach I haven't had any problems at all," he said. "As I came back, I let pain be my guide so when I felt something I'd have to back off, but that hasn't been the case. Now it's all about increasing reps."
With the appendectomy a thing of the past, the offensive line is playing at full strength and continues to gel with each passing day. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday he's been happy with the protection in the passing game and production on the ground.
That success continued on Wednesday. During offensive line versus front seven drills, several plays found Titans running backs bursting through gaps at the line of scrimmage. In full team drills, the offense produced three touchdowns on three rushing attempts from the goal line – a testament in large part to the work from the men up front.
As it does for every other position, the o-line's success starts in the meeting room. The players discuss what they see and how to clean up missed assignments.
"I think we discuss a lot of things in meetings and we communicate well," said Levitre. "I think as an offensive line communication is big. Having five guys who can communicate on and off the field helps build trust in each other. We're developing all of those things right now."
That trust goes a long way for an offensive line. It's often said that football is the ultimate team sport and it's arguable that an offensive line encompasses that superlative more than any other position group. It's imperative that everyone is comfortable and confident in the guy next to him. If everyone takes care of their assignment, life is good for each individual, their quarterback and the rest of the offense.
"As an offensive line, if one guy makes an assignment bust then you leave a guy free and bad things happen," Levitre said. "That's why it's important for us to play together as a group."
And the Titans have a group that is more than capable of reaching expectations. In 2013, Tennessee ranked ninth in the league in sacks allowed (37) and 16th in QB hits (81). While respectable numbers, they are figures the team looks to improve upon in 2014.
The Titans like the lineup they have in place for 2014. It starts with 10-year pro Michael Roos, a former All-Pro left tackle who is the stabilizing force of the group. The team stockpiled the guard position last year, adding the top free agent on the market in veteran Andy Levitre and drafting the top player at the position in 2013 in Chance Warmack. They also used last year's draft to select their center of the future in Brian Schwenke. This year, the Titans focused on replenishing the tackle position, signing veteran Michael Oher to replace David Stewart and using their first-round pick on Taylor Lewan, who is working hard in training camp to find playing time in 2014.
"Having Taylor [Lewan] brings out competition which brings out the best in everyone," said Levitre of his rookie teammate. "Having guys push you makes sure that no one ever gets too comfortable. It's going to make you work harder and in the long run it's going to make our team better. It's a good problem to have."
The competition will heat up on Saturday night in the preseason opener, which serves as another opportunity for everyone to prove themselves.
"I'm looking forward to going out there and competing against another team and getting better," Levitre said. "We need to clean up mistakes and do the little things right."