NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It's easy to wonder if Titans general manager Ruston Webster knew exactly what he was getting when he drafted Taylor Lewan with the 11th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Webster tabbed him as the team's future replacement to decade-long left tackle Michael Roos, but it may be Lewan's charismatic personality that transforms him from an inconspicuous lineman to a face of the franchise.
In just six starts as a rookie, Lewan has already given credence to the expectations laid upon him on draft day. The tackle out of Michigan has already provided his team with more than the ability to anchor an offensive line.
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)
With that 11th pick, the Titans added a fresh voice in their locker room, one that's become a driving force in the team's efforts to turn things around in 2015. It's a voice that delivers a combination of lighthearted humor and brutal honesty, all of which sums up to something that can only be described as genuine.
Lewan's candor is seldom seen from a rookie, let alone an offensive lineman -- being seen but not heard is the general unwritten rule of the position. That isn't the case for Lewan, who manages to find a balance of recognizing his place in the locker room – usually through self-deprecation – while remaining true to who he is.
It's impossible for anyone to come away from a conversation with the mammoth 6-foot, 7-inch tackle and feel they got anything but the truth. Good or bad, for better or worse, Lewan tells it how it is.
That's why when you ask Lewan about being the third tackle taken in the last year's draft, he has no problem saying that it still bothers him today – and probably will forever.
"To be the third tackle taken, people say 'Oh that's an awesome accomplishment.' I take that as it wasn't an accomplishment at all," he said. "I was just the second loser or however you want to say it. I'm still mad about that draft."
The Rams selected Greg Robinson second overall and the Falcons took Jake Matthews sixth.
Lewan outplayed both.
An ankle injury ended Lewan's rookie campaign prematurely, but it took him just 11 appearances and six starts to earn a spot on the 2014 Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team. Robinson and Matthews, who started 12 and 15 games respectively, were both left off the roster.
Lewan hopes the honor is merely a preamble to a career highlighted by perennial Pro Bowl appearances and a hand weighed down by Super Bowl rings.
"It's not about individual honors and will never be about individual honors, but it's a good feeling to know you've accomplished a little something," he said. "To me it's just the tip of the iceberg, hopefully."
The award doesn't remove the Grand Canyon-sized chip from the shoulder of the Arizona native. To him, being the third left tackle off the board is personal – a slight that no amount of individual accolades and Lombardi Trophies can absolve.
Justified or not, the angst over his perceived draft snub gives Lewan the mental edge required to continue his pursuit of superiority.
"I can always find something that keeps me going and this is going to hold for a long time," he said. "Being the third tackle taken, like I said, people told me it was an accomplishment. To me it was an insult."
Every player needs to find that one thing – that memory or thought that can fire them up at a moment's notice. Being content is the kiss of death for an NFL career.
"In my opinion, when you see guys who are really good in college and not great in the NFL, a lot of it has to do with guys getting complacent," Lewan said. "Lots of guys have the goal to get to the NFL, and once they get there they feel like they've accomplished their goal.
"If your goal isn't to be the best at your position, then why are you playing the game? That should be everyone's mentality. The most exciting thing is the opportunity we have with the Tennessee Titans."
A year removed from the draft process, Lewan is in the midst of his first offseason as a pro. Never again will he have to go through the late nights and early mornings of the scouting combine. Gone are the weeks of stress over where draft experts predict he'll land.
Now it's all about football.
The Titans selected Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan with the 11th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
That isn't to say that the months of transition from a collegiate athlete to an NFL rookie didn't bring fond memories. Jaguars guard Brandon Linder, Cowboys guard Zach Martin and Dolphins tight end Arthur Lynch are among the friends that Lewan made during the process that he still keeps up with.
As a pledge of a fraternity may agree with, the grind leading up to draft day is best described as the most fun time of your life you never want to go through again.
"If you have a positive mindset through the whole thing you're going to enjoy it. But would I want to do it again? No," he laughed. "I'm happy just lifting weights and getting ready to play football."
Lewan is just one of many members of the Titans' 2014 draft class to contribute as a rookie. Second-round pick Bishop Sankey led the Titans in rushing yards with 569. Fifth-round pick Avery Williamson started 12 games and set a Titans-era rookie record with 107 tackles (55 solo, 52 assists). Sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger could likely be the team's starting quarterback in 2015.
With free agency set to begin in March and another strong draft class around the corner, Lewan knows things are on the upswing after a 2-14 record in 2014.
"We're going to bring a lot of good guys in here," said Lewan. "The guys upstairs know what they're doing. Our rookie class this year had a lot of guys contribute. That was cool and it's a great starting point. To be a part of it is awesome."
His personal success as a rookie was no surprise to himself. Lewan's frank commentary is matched only by his confidence in his own ability. In coach speak; Lewan has plenty of dog in him, something Lewan says he prides himself in.
"I want to keep being that guy who plays through the whistle and has a mean streak," he explained. "I want to be that guy. People say you don't want to be that guy but I want to be that guy … I've always thought I belonged in this league. I love this game. I love protecting people. It feels good to know that I'm the Titans' left tackle of the future. That's awesome."
Lewan will still be a rookie in the Titans locker room as the football calendar turns to 2015. It's a policy enforced by the team's veterans that you're a rookie until Week 4 of your sophomore season.
The coaches, however, will expect Lewan to play like a veteran.
"I've got a lot less excuses now. Being a starter and having played in 11 games as a rookie, I have a lot less excuses, which I like," Lewan said. "If I fail – give up a sack or a tackle for loss – it falls on my shoulders. I'm expected to get better every year, and that's my expectation as well."
All the while, the chip will rest uncomfortably on his shoulder, erasing any opportunity to stop and smell the proverbial roses.
"You can't get comfortable," Lewan vowed. "The second you do, it's over."