NASHVILLE -- The last two guards drafted by the Tennessee Titans franchise, Hall of Famers Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews, just oversaw the selection of another.
Alabama’s Chance Warmack is so football-focused, he got his license only last year. He's so strong, the Titans said he moved SEC defensive linemen like no one else. He's so in love with the idea of playing for these two coaches, he didn't hold a private workout for anyone else.
I’ve known Munchak and Matthews since 1996. I can’t recall ever seeing the two low-key, business-like football men beam quite so brightly. The glow they gave off at the news conference at the Titans' headquarters after making the 10th pick made me believe it when they said there was no question Warmack was their man early on -- something virtually every coach stated Thursday night.
A few days after Alabama’s pro day, Munchak and Matthews got Warmack on the field with Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker in Tuscaloosa. The coaches put the prospects through a difficult 90-minute workout that helped transform Matthews into a believer.
“Really, for me, I go in very skeptical on linemen that I’ve heard about,” Matthews said. “Because typically they’re a product of the team they play on. Alabama having such a great tradition and on such a hit streak, you kind of think they’ve got a bunch of other guys on the team pumping him up.
“I went in very skeptical, wanting to shoot him down at every turn. And really I think what sold me on him was every time I was with him, I got excited about the opportunity to watch him play and coach him. He has the demeanor and the mindset and he plays the style that we are looking for.”
Warmack spoke in advance of the draft about Tennessee being a dream destination. He’s from Atlanta and went to Alabama. In addition to playing in the Southeast, he craved the coaching the Titans could offer, considering he’d never played for a coach who’d actually played offensive line before.
“They put me through the wringer,” he said, recounting the private workout. “I felt like I put everything into what I did, and throughout my visit we had a great time going over plays and I felt like we hit it off pretty well.”
The franchise hasn’t drafted a first-round guard since Matthews in 1983, ninth overall, and Munchak in 1982, eighth overall. Years later, they presented each other into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As a longtime offensive line coach, Munchak frequently develops midround picks into capable players. He was promoted to head coach in 2011 and hired Matthews, his closest friend, to take over his old job.
Fifth-rounder Benji Olson and third-rounder Zach Piller were the starting guards on the Titans' Super Bowl team in 1999. Free agents such as Kevin Mawae, Fred Miller, Jake Scott have been splashed in, but homegrown and developed guys were far more frequent pieces.
The Titans thought they could make it through last season. They added Steve Hutchinson, the well-credentialed veteran guard. He didn’t bring much and then got hurt, like virtually every other lineman on the team.
General manager Ruston Webster and Munchak huddled after the season and decided it was time. When free agency opened, they landed top available guard, Buffalo’s Andy Levitre, with a six-year, $46.8 million contract.
Now they drafted Warmack. He will shift from his college position on the left to the right and be a fixture on the more powerful side of the line.
“To me, he is the complete package,” Munchak said. “He loves the game; he has a passion for it. Spending time with Bruce and I, he loved hearing the stories of linemen of the past, talking about the history of the game. For a young guy, that’s rare that he’s interested in those types of things. Obviously, we all hit it off pretty well.
“I think he wanted to be a Titan the whole time and he didn't hide his feelings on that.”
Warmack said he weighs 325 pounds and anticipates playing at 325 or 330.
Tim Ruskell scouts the Southeast for the Titans and said the sort of power he saw from Warmack is rare in the NFL. He saw Hutchinson up close in Seattle, where he was dominant at the start of his career. The way Warmack plays will mean the Titans can do anything they want behind him.
“He can explode with his hips and he can get in and get movement versus bigger people,” Ruskell said. “He played against so many good defensive linemen that were strong and stout. We didn’t see a lot of guys moving those guys. But when you watch Chance, he was able to get movement, he was able to seal run lanes -- that kind of power. It’s the power to anchor, it’s the power to explode and get movement versus bigger people.
“... It just sets him apart from the normal offensive linemen that you tend to look at. That is what got our attention, and then it is aggression -- the aggression and the want-to and to sustain and finish the block. Coaches always talk finish. This guy has finish. It is a big thing that seems simple, but it is a big deal. When you see it and the combination of what he has, I think it is a rare trait.”