Wiedmer: Warmack a smart choice for Titans

Wiedmer: Warmack a smart choice for Titans

April 26th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

Chance Warmack

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Perhaps all we need to know about the Tennessee Titans' decision to select Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night came in a tweet from running back Chris Johnson.

Tweeted the fifth-year running back, in all caps: THANK GOD.

That's not a helmet-haired, talking head genuflecting on ESPN. That's a Titans player. Possibly the best Titans player. Certainly as important a player as anyone on the roster if Tennessee is to improve dramatically on last year's 6-10 record, which left the Titans outside the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Running backs, even those as swift and elusive as Johnson, need holes to run through -- the bigger the better. When he raced over, around and through defensive lines for 2,006 yards in 2009, Johnson had superb blocking.

The last couple of years, not so much. Yes, he's never gained fewer than 1,000 yards in a season and his 1,243 yards last season included a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. But after totaling 34 rushing touchdowns in his first three seasons, Johnson has scored only 10 the last two years (six in 2012). So if CJ seems both relieved and rejuvenated about the selection of Warmack, perhaps the rest of Titans Nation should as well.

Or as Jon Gruden exclaimed on ESPN seconds after the pick was announced: "[Warmack's] a thumper. He can flat-out intimidate you."

Added Mel Kiper: "[Alabama] rushed for 350 yards against Georgia in the SEC title game, and he was responsible for that."

With due respect to Kiper, fellow Tide linemen Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker were as responsible for that as Warmack. And they weren't the only ones.

But he's also the kind of intelligent, long-term pick that Titans coach Mike Munchak -- himself a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his own offensive-line skills with the Houston Oilers -- needed to land for a franchise that hasn't always made the brightest selections.

Or does anyone need to be reminded of Vince Young and Pacman Jones?

Instead, in a draft remarkably short on head-turning, franchise-changing skill players, the Titans wisely decided to follow Gruden's pre-selection advice to "solidify the offensive line. Let [quarterback Jake] Locker step up in the pocket and hit some of those young receivers they've drafted."

Indeed, the additions of the 6-foot-2, 317-pound Warmack and his size-17 feet -- as well as the acquisition of veteran Andy Levitre -- should provide outstanding blocking help for tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart, who each is entering a ninth NFL season.

Just as important, if not more so, the Titans finally should have the kind of line that can allow the franchise's front office to decide if Locker, now in his third season, is the quarterback you keep, or if you start making plans to find someone other than offseason acquisition Ryan Fitzpatrick to guide your offense in the future.

The Atlanta Falcons, of course, were in a slightly different draft mode than the Titans. Dealing from a position of strength, they traded up to the No. 22 pick, choosing University of Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant to shore up a shaky secondary.

But while the Falcons are tweaking a team that came within 10 yards of reaching last year's Super Bowl, the Titans are attempting to rebuild a team that has made the playoffs only twice in the last nine years.

Said Munchak of his top pick: "He's the complete package."

If Munchak intends to be the coach past this season, Warmack needs to be every bit of that. That the sometimes grumpy Johnson seems to be on the same page as his coach may be the Titans' best news yet.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com