NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans tackle Taylor Lewan was very matter-of-fact last month when asked about the potential of the team's running game this fall.
"If we open up holes, they'll be really good,'' Lewan said. "If we don't they'll be really bad. We have to do our jobs."
When the subject turned to his role as a leader in his third NFL season, Lewan was just as clear-cut. Under Ken Whisenhunt, the Titans asked Lewan to be more vocal, and assertive. Lewan has made it clear he's putting the focus on improving himself, and if that helps the team, great.
"My commitment is where it has always been: I am doing what I am asked to do,'' he said. "I look at myself as a left tackle, and I have a job to do. I am not going to change who I am, I am just going to play ball.
"I am here to be the best left tackle I can possibly be for this team, and that is the conversation I had with (general manager) Jon Robinson and the conversation I had with coach (Mike) Mularkey."
Following a season when he started 15 games at left tackle – and graded out well, according to Pro Football Focus – Lewan was the subject of plenty of speculation leading up to the NFL Draft. Popular opinion outside the team from January to April centered on the Titans drafting a tackle with the first overall pick, and inserting that player into the left tackle spot. Under that scenario, Lewan would then be bumped to the right side.
Of course that never happened.
After trading the first overall pick, the Titans drafted Jack Conklin with the No.8 pick, and inserted him at right tackle this offseason. Lewan remained at left tackle. It's where he lined up for 21 starts over his first two NFL seasons.
According to PFF, Lewan ended 2015 as the NFL's 12th-ranked tackle with an overall grade of 83.3, despite playing through a shoulder injury.
Mularkey said Lewan impressed him with his offseason approach.
"I see that (maturity). I definitely see that. I've seen that this whole offseason,'' Mularkey said. "He hasn't said a lot verbally, but his actions of what he's done in the weight room, out here on the field, he's in tremendous shape. He's probably in the best shape of any lineman I've been around. He can run all day. He covers on every play, back in the huddle. It's obvious he's been working at it. That's a lot of maturity I'm seeing."
Lewan, the team's first-round draft pick in 2014, wants to establish himself on the field and in the locker room for years to come with the Titans.
In his mind, he doesn't necessarily need to change anything to make that happen. He is putting more of a focus of cleaning up his penalties – he was whistled for 10 last season. With quarterback Marcus Mariota heading into his second NFL season, and with the additions of running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, Lewan likes the team's potential.
But he knows it's going to take more than talk.
'In my opinion, being a leader is doing what you are supposed to do, and for me, that is playing left tackle,'' Lewan said. "For me to keep my position and my job and do the things I wanted to do, I had to do a lot of growing as a person this offseason, and it is continuing to do those things.
"I am an outgoing guy, there is no question there. But you don't always need guys to say (something). We are not in high school any more. We are all paid to do this job and I don't need to sit here and openly criticize guys on the field -- that is not my job to do. My job is to play left tackle. And my job is to play left tackle to the best of my abilities and do my part for this team to win. Winning five games over the last two seasons is unacceptable. We want to win."
Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, safety Da'Norris Searcy and defensive tackle Sammie Hill were featured on Day 2 of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Titans Caravan. (Photos: Susanna Nickell)