Titans O-line experience does not end with starters

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 10:46pm

They comprise the second team, but they hardly are second rate.

Eventually, the Tennessee Titans will have to make some difficult choices with their offensive linemen. For now, though, they figure they cannot have too many players with experience at that spot.

Most important, they have enough to provide rookie quarterback Jake Locker with a safe – relatively speaking, at least – working environment.

“I think it’s very important for a young quarterback,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “What you have to do as a coach is guard that they don’t lose their confidence and don’t lose their rhythm. When the quarterback is getting knocked around – whether you’re a veteran or you’re a rookie – if you get a hit a couple times … they’re trying to knock you out of rhythm.

“If you can protect the quarterback, that’s the whole key to being successful.”

With additions to the roster after the start of training camp such as Pat McQuistan and Adam Terry, the Titans go at least two-deep at every offensive line position with players that have some degree of NFL experience. McQuistan appeared in 56 games, with six starts, in the previous five seasons, and Terry had 50 appearances, with 18 starts, in the last six campaigns.

Those two along with Kevin Matthews, Fernando Velasco and Ryan Durand – all second-year players – comprised the second unit during at least one of this week’s workouts.

“I think that makes a big difference,” Locker, Tennessee’s first-round draft pick, said. “It’s guys who have seen stuff like this before, whether it’s been in the preseason or regular season. They’re coached really very well. They’re going to understand what we’re doing going into the game on Saturday, and that gives you peace of mind when you’re back behind them.”

Locker entered last Saturday’s preseason opener when the starting offensive line was still involved but finished behind a group of backups.

Starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck likely will play longer in the coming games, beginning Saturday at St. Louis (7 p.m., WKRN-TV Ch. 2), which means Locker will come on with other backups.

“We have had guys like [Terry] and [McQuistan] come in to help us out and they have some NFL experience – they have started some games in the league,” starting center Eugene Amano said. “So they’re bringing some good depth for us in case something were to happen. We have a lot of knowledgeable guys in the room.

“Guys understand the schemes and you don’t have to sit around and go over every detail because guys know how to make adjustments and all that. So it’s really helpful.”

It also has become important in recent days as starting right tackle David Stewart (hamstring) and backup Troy Kroprog (knee) sustained injuries that will keep them out for a week or more.

“We brought in some guys that aren’t just bodies,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We have a lot of guys that are competing. There are going to be a lot of tough decisions, and that is going to be one of them on the offensive line because a lot of times that’s the position you try to cut.”

For now, though, the important thing is to keep Locker from being chopped down.

He was sacked once in the game against the Vikings (the only Tennessee quarterback who went down), but he also attempted a team-high 10 passes and connected on seven of them.

Provided he has time to throw, the coaches have the opportunity to evaluate his progress.

“It will help a lot and that was our thinking,” Munchak said. “You always want to have two lines because if the one group is not playing well, and someone gets hurt … especially in preseason when you are playing a lot of people, you want to have some experience there and have some good depth.”