The Titans offense has been on fire this season, but they’ll be playing the rest of the year without one of their best players as three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan confirmed that he suffered a torn ACL against the Texans.
Obviously, our best wishes go out to Lewan as he undergoes surgery and the lengthy rehab process associated with these types of injuries. The silver lining — if you want to find any in objectively bad news — is that ACL injuries are no longer the career ender that they once were and given the timeline of the injury, Lewan should be able to participate in training camp next year and be ready to roll for the 2021 season.
From a Titans standpoint, there is no sugar-coating this… losing your left tackle and your best offensive lineman is a tough blow. Tennessee has largely had the luxury of being able to leave Lewan one-on-one against some of the best pass rushers in the league without concern. That will no longer be the case.
Ty Sambrailo has been the proverbial “next man up” for the Titans at left tackle this season, playing in four of five games as Lewan dealt with injuries to his knee against Denver, his shoulder against Minnesota, his other shoulder against Buffalo, and then this knee injury against Houston. It’s been a string of misfortune for 77 from a health standpoint in 2020.
Sambrailo’s showings in those games have been mostly good with a couple notable exceptions. He was beaten badly by Vikings defensive end Yannick Ngakoue for a strip sack in Week 3 and then similarly beaten by J.J. Watt for a strip sack yesterday. However, he’s allowed just 5 pressures total in 69 pass blocking snaps and has actually graded as the Titans top run blocker according to PFF’s grading scale.
In his 6th year out of Colorado State, the former 2nd round pick of the Broncos has 13 career starts at various positions along the line, but primarily tackle.
Why not just insert 1st-round pick Isaiah Wilson at right tackle and flip Dennis Kelly to Lewan’s spot? That may ultimately be where the Titans go in the long run, but Wilson has still barely practiced after two stints on the reserve/COVID list and reports from camp were less than glowing about how ready he looked to contribute in an NFL game.
Also, flipping Kelly from right tackle, where he’s played really well during his time with the Titans, to left tackle, where he hasn’t, is problematic. Kelly has been getting reps at right tackle for months now next to Nate Davis and those two are beginning to find a groove. Flipping him disrupts that chemistry and forces him to mirror everything about the muscle memory he’s been building for months. It’s not as easy as it sounds to just go play on the other side.
The Titans could also look to the free agent market, where veteran left tackle Cordy Glenn is available, though the process for bringing in outside free agents in the COVID era means that there is next to zero chance of him being cleared to play against the Steelers, even if he could learn the playbook well enough to help in that time (also doubtful).
It is more likely that we see Sambrailo and Kelly at left and right tackle, respectively, for the near future. They’ll get a big test right out of the gate with Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt coming to town this weekend.