Why isn't rookie Dillon Radunz filling the Titans' hole at right tackle?

Rookie Dillon Radunz has the flexibility to play guard and tackle for the Titans. Mark Humphrey/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The quest for a starting right tackle has been a complicated journey for the Tennessee Titans since they allowed Jack Conklin to leave via free agency during the 2020 offseason. The Titans used their 2020 first-round pick on Georgia tackle Isaiah Wilson and signed Dennis Kelly to a three-year, $21 million contract. Neither player remains on the roster.

GM Jon Robinson took another swing at solving the right tackle spot this offseason by signing free agent Kendall Lamm and selecting North Dakota State offensive lineman Dillon Radunz with the 53rd pick. Robinson also re-signed veteran tackle Ty Sambrailo in hopes of having him compete for the starting spot.

Now two weeks into camp, the team still doesn't have a clear-cut, long-term starter at right tackle.

Heading into the draft, the Titans liked Radunz's versatility. They felt the second-rounder could play both guard and tackle, and he worked at both spots during Senior Bowl practices in January.

"I think as you guys have watched practice he has been in multiple places," coach Mike Vrabel said of Radunz, "and I think that is good for a rookie to be able to handle all that. Inside, outside, right, left, and now maybe just start to clean up the technique, and things maybe slow down a little bit for him and start to see some improvement."

Being able to fill multiple roles is usually a good thing. However, spending time at different positions could have made it difficult for Radunz to compete at that hard-to-fill right tackle spot. It's a temporary sacrifice meant to establish long-term success.

"In a perfect world, he plays one position," offensive line coach Keith Carter said. "You stick him there and see where it can get him. I think in the long run this will help him. We're going to need him to play more than one spot."

"It helps me so much," Radunz added. "Helps me with the speed of the game. Just learning the nuances of the interior offensive line in the NFL and the exterior and stuff like that. But just being able to settle into a position in the future will be huge for me honing in my skills."

Tennessee's unofficial depth chart lists Sambrailo and Lamm as co-starters at right tackle. Lamm missed a week of practice after suffering a right arm injury during practice but returned in a limited role on Monday.

David Quessenberry started at right tackle in the Titans' second preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Saturday. But he's listed as the backup left tackle.

Radunz is listed as the backup right guard instead of in the mix at tackle. Radunz saw reps mostly at right tackle in rookie minicamp, OTAs and minicamp.

Vrabel said the coaching staff doesn't see Radunz primarily as a guard. But he's getting more reps there because starter Nate Davis has missed some practice time and the team is managing veteran left guard Rodger Saffold III's workload.

Added Vrabel, "We are just trying to see where he fits best and how he can help us."

It's not just that he hasn't settled at one position, though. The other issue for Radunz is time away from the game. Counting the two preseason games, Radunz has played in only three games since the 2019 college season because the pandemic restricted North Dakota State's schedule to one game. There's plenty of rust to knock off, so there will be some bumps along the way.

"I think the obvious one is catching up with the speed of the game," former North Dakota State offensive line coach A.J. Blazek said on the Talking with TD podcast. "Just like going from high school to college, it's a lot faster. College to pros, it's even faster. ... Once he catches up to the speed of the game, he plays lightning fast. He's a guy that understands X's and O's. He's an engineer. He's really smart with angles. Some guys that are thinkers, they slow down. He's able to process all of that and still play fast too."

Last Saturday, Radunz started at right guard against the Buccaneers before moving to right tackle. Buccaneers' first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shpyinka beat Radunz repeatedly off the edge.

Tryon finished with one sack and a QB hit to go along with a number of pressures. Sometimes it was a bull rush, other times it was speed off the edge. Almost every time, it wasn't pretty.

Being shown up like that can rock a young player's confidence. The Titans' staff is making sure Radunz' confidence doesn't gets shaken. Especially offensive line coach Keith Carter.

"He's had his struggles," Carter said. "But every rookie has their struggles. He's got a great attitude. We focus on small victories. There are things improving and getting better every day. Vrabes does a great job of reminding us to give the guys small victories. We need to make sure he knows it's not doom and gloom. He's gotta get better and he is. We all have to be patient and take it one step at a time."

The Titans' search for their starting right tackle continues.