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VOL. 40 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 14, 2016

Titans, Lewan on same track to success, failure

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Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, the team’s first pick (11th overall) in the 2014 draft, is ranked among the top linemen in the NFL this season but has a penchant for losing his cool and committing penalties. He’s shown here working against the Texans’ Whitney Marcellus earlier this season.

-- Matt Patterson Via Ap

Is it too simple to say: As goes Taylor Lewan, so go the Tennessee Titans? It’s obviously too broad a generalization, but Lewan’s ups and downs on the field and off do seem in many ways to mirror the Titans’ fortunes in recent years.

Much of the improvement the Titans have shown this season has been made possible by the revamped offensive line, which has opened rushing lanes for DeMarco Murray and kept quarterback Marcus Mariota much more upright and safe than a year ago.

In that time, Lewan, whose play was marked by inconsistency a year ago, has risen to become the top-rated tackle in the entire NFL by respected analytics website Pro Football Focus.

“I think I’ve played consistent. I think I’ve played good enough to win, and I just got to continue to do that, to keep Marcus protected and get DeMarco yards,” Lewan says.

But there are still bumps in the road that must be smoothed out, even when the overall performance is a success for the third-year left tackle.

Consider Sunday in Miami where the Titans dominated, thanks largely to the play of the offensive line. There was Lewan leading the way as the Titans rolled up 235 yards on the ground and kept Mariota from being sacked.

That was the good. Now for the bad.

On one drive in the second half, Lewan was seen in the pile being aggressive and letting his emotions get away from him. Teammates pulled him back from the fray, but shortly thereafter, Lewan, still apparently agitated, was whistled for a holding call and a hands to the face penalty, pushing the Titans into impossible down-and-distance situations.

Coach Mike Mularkey was not happy with those miscues after the game, especially in light of the fact that Lewan’s unnecessary roughness penalty two weeks before had derailed a late-game drive against the Raiders.

“Those are things he’s got to quit doing. It didn’t hurt us today but it’s not going to be tolerated. He knows that and he’s got to quit doing that,” Mularkey says. “I didn’t see the hands to the face, I don’t know if it was purposely done because of the holding call. I don’t know all of that but he’s got to watch his temper.”

Lewan embodies much of what the Titans are going through as they try to dig their way back to NFL respectability. He came in as a first-round pick and immediately was a media and fan favorite.

Ken Whisenhunt did Lewan no favors by making him a team captain in his second season – something Lewan, as a young player with only six start under his belt – didn’t need and wasn’t ready for.

Now in Year 3, the production is better and the struggles are fewer – even though they still rear up from time to time – showing that Lewan is still far from a finished product despite his physical gifts.

When Lewan is focused, healthy and has his mind right, he can play as well as any tackle in the league.

But there are times when emotions and frustrations still get the better of him.

Mularkey and the Titans are walking a fine line here. They no doubt love Lewan’s competitive fire and his desire to help turn around a franchise starved for wins.

But when that line is crossed – as it was against Oakland and nearly again in Miami – it can be a detriment.

“He’s such a competitor, I’m not going to take the competitive (away from him). He’s tough. He’s having a Pro Bowl year. There’s times that he has to tone it down a bit because it’s going to hurt us,” Mularkey says.

Chances are, Lewan already knows this. But things will only change when he does something about it.

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