NASHVILLE – A decade ago, Titans center Ben Jones walked the campus at the University of Georgia.
It's where he became an All-SEC performer, and where he paved his way to the NFL.
Ever since, Jones has made a point to get to know current players at the school, especially the offensive linemen.
So when the Titans drafted Georgia tackle Isaiah Wilson in the first-round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Jones had some familiarity with the big man.
"I always try to build a bond with the guys at Georgia," said Jones, who's set to begin his fifth season with the Titans, and ninth in the NFL. "We have a close-knit group, we have a lot of Dawgs in the NFL. I try to reach out to guys throughout college, and I always went back every spring to sit in the meetings and just kind of see what they're being coached and stay around and watch a couple practices. That's how I got to know Isaiah."
Needless to say, Jones is excited about now being NFL teammates with Wilson, a 6-foot-6, 350-pounder who was the 29th overall pick of the draft.
Wilson was an All-SEC second team performer for the Bulldogs in 2019 after playing in 11 games, starting 10. He was the co-winner of Offensive "Up Front" Award, given at team's post-season awards gala.
"Can't wait to have him in our group," Jones said of Wilson. "He's a big guy, and the best thing as a young guy, you usually get to mold guys like that. They're in the building, you're able to work with them on the field and in the meeting room, and we're not able to do that right now. It's going to come down to a guy like that with his character, and he's going to have to work on his own and do as much as he can to try to catch up and be a part of this group. We had a good year last year, and we have about everybody returning so we're looking forward to this and can't wait to have a guy like that in our room, and be able to help him and mold him as much as we can."
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Titans are working out on their own while going through the virtual offseason program. Facilities across the NFL are currently closed to players and coaches.
Members of the Titans offensive line are doing their best to stay in touch, while continuing to build chemistry.
Following the team's virtual rookie minicamp over the weekend, Wilson is now able to join the group, which includes four returning starters from last season – left tackle Taylor Lewan, left guard Rodger Saffold, Jones, and right guard Nate Davis.
The Titans re-signed right tackle Dennis Kelly, who will aim to hold off Wilson for the starting spot in the right side.
"We have meetings four times per week," Jones, who has played in 135 games over eight NFL seasons, said of the offensive linemen. "We're a really close group, we text every day, we're on phone calls together. It takes a while to build that bond, and we have a lot of guys coming back. We have, I think, our whole offense almost coming back, so that's good to have. Last year, wasn't good enough and we're trying to go from good to great, and we're trying to take that next step. We're trying to do everything possible through these Zoom meetings, and working out on our own, and trying to stay involved with each other's lives through Zoom, and through just a phone call to build that bond. I think we have a group that can do that. We know the guys we have in our room that you can reach out to if anybody needs help. People are literally all over the U.S. right now staying and working out, so we're not all in one city, so that makes it hard."
When the Titans are allowed back in the building, Wilson will be faced with the challenge of trying to get up to speed.
Jones offered this advice to the 21-year-old Wilson: Be prepared, so when the time comes, you'll be ready.
"It's going to come down to him working and competing when we're able to get back to work," Jones said. "That's the thing, as an offensive lineman you've just got to control what you can control. Don't try to do anything that you can't do, and just do what you're asked on each play. When it comes down to Isaiah and taking the next step, all he can really learn right now – he can really get into the playbook and learn as much as possible, so when we're able to get on the field at least he's knowing what he's doing and they can coach up his technique. He's getting a great opportunity to learn the playbook and spend a lot of time in that and knowing it like the back of his hand before he has to go out there and perform."
Titans Online looks back at center Ben Jones' 2019 season. (Photos: Donald Page)
The Titans select Georgia offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson in first round (29th overall) of 2020 NFL Draft. (AP Photos)