Heading into the 2013 offseason, the Tennessee Titans knew they needed some major upgrades along the interior of their offensive line. They acquired guard Andy Levitre during free agency and used the No. 10 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft on Alabama guard Chance Warmack.
During the fourth round, they added Cal center Brian Schwenke to the mix as well, bringing in some tough competition for 2012 starting center Fernando Velasco. With Levitre and Warmack now in the mix, Velasco and Schwenke will battle for the final interior spot along the Titans front five. The loser, however, should still see significant snaps across the line as a utility backup.
In one corner is Velasco, who started all 16 games (13 at center, three at left guard) for the Titans in 2012. Despite a lackluster effort throughout the season by the Tennessee offensive line, Velasco was one of the lone bright spots. He graded out positively as both a run and pass blocker according to Pro Football Focus. In 643 pass plays, he never gave up a sack while only allowing nine quarterback hurries and three quarterback hits. The Titans coaching staff is confident in Velasco moving forward, but he’s far from a lock to start.
In the other corner is Schwenke, a rookie fourth-round pick who was the top center on the Titans’ board this past April. With a compact build and plenty of versatility, the former Golden Bear brings a well-rounded talent to the Titans offensive line. Schwenke did a great job of using a low center of gravity, smarts and short-range quickness to beat bull-rushers in pass protection while displaying an explosive pop and relentless drive against the run. While he’s still a work in progress, the fact that the Titans are so high on him is a definite plus.
Both bring plenty to the table in the run and pass departments, but Schwenke appears to have a slight edge with his relentless run blocking. Especially as the Titans try to adopt an identity as a run-first offense, having Schwenke in the mix should help open up holes for running back Chris Johnson. Velasco’s starting experience and reliability in pass pro, however, can’t be overlooked.
It should be a hard-fought battle between two capable centers. In the end, though, I see Schwenke coming out on top while Velasco is demoted to a swing role, adding depth at all three interior spots.