NASHVILLE, TN, June 30, 2004 -- The Titans’ offensive line returns as one of the most experienced units on the team in 2004.
With all five starters returning from a year ago, the line made great strides in 2003, pass protecting for MVP quarterback Steve McNair and paving the way for Eddie George to gain the seventh 1,000-yard rushing season of his career.
But the guys up front are not talking about last season’s accomplishments. They realize that another strong season up front could translate into even better things offensively for the Titans in 2004.
The unit is guided by former Houston Oiler and 2001 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Mike Munchak, now in his eighth season as offensive line coach for the Titans.
Coming off his second Pro Bowl appearance, the 2004 offensive line is led by LT Brad Hopkins, who returns for his 12th season. Hopkins joined Munchak and Bruce Mathews as the only offensive linemen in team history to start 150 career games last season. Lining up beside Hopkins will be LG Zach Piller, who enters his sixth season as one of the most consistent players in the game. RT Fred Miller returns alongside RG Benji Olson to add another talented and experienced pair on the right side. Anchoring the middle will be C Justin Hartwig, who improved by leaps and bounds after taking over the position and starting every game last year.
Reliable veteran T Jason Mathews will provide depth along the line with fellow Titans veterans T Matt Martin, T/G Todd Williams and G Marico Portis. Additional tackles Brady Washburn and Mario Branch were allocated to NFL Europe during the off-season by the Titans and will compete for roster spots.
The Titans picked up two offensive line prospects in the 2004 NFL draft, along with signing four additional free agent rookies.
Fifth round selection G/T Jacob Bell and seventh round choice C Eugene Amano will try to provide much needed depth at their respected interior positions, while free agents G Dennis Alexander, G Bryce Bishop, G Chris Frank and C Hugh Reilly will also compete for spots in training camp.
With a full year of starts under his belt at center, C Justin Hartwig has the full confidence of his coaches and teammates. His off-season work, coupled with his increasing comfort level at the position, has the third year pro poised for a strong 2004 campaign.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
G/T Jacob Bell was a fifth round selection and has shown promise during recent minicamp practices. In addition, seventh round selection C Eugene Amano may have a chance to contribute at center. With Hartwig being the only true center on the roster, the rookie from SE Missouri St. would have to be a quick study, but could provide valuable depth at the position should he pick up Tennessee’s offensive system and prove his worth in camp.
OTHERS TO WATCH
At 6-5, 330 pounds, second-year G/T Todd Williams has the size to be an effective player up front. How much he has improved from a year ago, and the improvement he makes during this coming training camp will go a long ways toward his future playing time.
FROM THE OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
“You can see that group working well together. They played really well last year, I feel real confident with them right now heading into training camp.”
– Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger
With all five starters returning, this unit is looking for big things. Keeping Steve McNair healthy and opening up more running lanes for the talented stable of Titans runners could lead to topping some of the record setting offensive numbers from a year ago. The goal for training camp will be to continue to play at a Pro Bowl level, while developing some of the young reserves for added depth in 2004.
LOCKER ROOM TALK
(On returning all five starters from a year ago)
“It will be the first time in several years that all five starters have returned. We are a veteran group, we plan to keep improving and getting better and we want to establish ourselves as one of the better offensive line groups in the NFL.”
– C Justin Hartwig
“When the defense is trying to complicate things it is good that the offensive line has been here and we know what to do and we can make those calls because we know what each one is thinking.”
– T Fred Miller
“We have played so consistent the past couple of years we expect nothing but the cohesiveness that allows good teams to be great. We are just really fortunate to be able to say we have the same guys protecting Steve and blocking for Eddie that we had last year, there is no reason why we shouldn’t pick up right where we left off.”
– T Brad Hopkins
“It’s the first time we have had all five guys back since I have been here. You don’t see it anymore with the free agency, we need to take advantage of that this year, come out and work hard and have a real good year.”
– G Benji Olson
(On improving the running game)
“You want to run the ball well. We did some things really well in the running game last year and we just have to build on that.”
– G Zach Piller
“Running the ball and keeping Steve healthy is a huge deal. Running it can take some of the workload off of him, and we are just trying to grind it and get back to old Titans football.”
– T Fred Miller
“The glaring thing that stands out that we want to improve on is the running game. We are expecting big things there.”
– C Justin Hartwig
“It’s going to be really important. With a quarterback like McNair, if you can run the ball it’s going to make him even more dangerous.”
– G/T Jacob Bell
(On having Hall of Famer Mike Munchak as a position coach)
“He’s the man. I think all of us realize what an honor it is to be coached by him and to just be around somebody like that. He is the reason that we are one of the best O-lines in the league.”
– G Zach Piller
“I have been going out and working with Coach Munchak. Any time you have a hall of famer willing to work with you one on one you better take it. Whether it’s 30 minutes or a whole day, you better take advantage of it.”
– T Todd Williams
G Dennis Alexander, 6-4 – 326 – R - Alabama
C Eugene Amano, 6-3 – 295 – R - SE Missouri St.
G Jacob Bell, 6-4 – 306 – R - Miami (OH)
G Bryce Bishop, 6-2 – 310 – R - Ohio State
T Mario Branch, 6-7 – 310 - 1 - Mississippi Valley St.
G Chris Frank, 6-3 – 310 – R - Sacramento St.
C Justin Hartwig, 6-4 – 305 – 3 - Kansas
T Brad Hopkins, 6-3 – 295 – 12 - Illinois
T Matt Martin, 6-6 – 300 – 2 - Kansas State
T Jason Mathews, 6-5 – 285 – 11 - Texas A&M
T Fred Miller, 6-7 – 320 – 9 - Baylor
G Benji Olson, 6-4 – 320 – 6 - Washington
G Zach Piller, 6-5 – 321 – 6 - Florida
G Marico Portis, 6-2 – 313 – 1 - Alabama
C Hugh Reilly, 6-4 – 285 – R - Georgia Tech
T Brady Washburn, 6-5 – 305 – 1 - Appalachian St.
G Todd Williams, 6-5 – 330 – 2 - Florida State