Titans 'hyped up' to get Taylor Lewan's big personality back

"I have a newfound appreciation for the game," Taylor Lewan said after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The 2020 season turned out to be another strong one for the Tennessee Titans' offensive line, but that doesn't mean the team was the same without left tackle Taylor Lewan.

The three-time Pro Bowler made it through four games in 2020 before suffering a torn ACL in the Titans' 42-36 win over the Houston Texans in Week 6. Lewan went down in the second quarter and was out for the rest of the season.

"He's a big personality, the life of the party so to speak," offensive line coach Keith Carter said. "From an energy and juice standpoint, that's really important. You need that. He's a big help getting over those hump days."

The Titans pressed on in 2020 without Lewan, winning the AFC South division title, fueled by running back Derrick Henry becoming the eighth NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards. Accomplishing such big things hardly meant Lewan's impact wasn't missed.

"Taylor is a large part of what we are doing here," coach Mike Vrabel said. "He does have some energy and excitement. He has been locked in, and he has done everything that we have asked him to do in his return."

They say "absence makes the heart grow fonder." That was exactly the case for Lewan and his relationship with football.

"I have a newfound appreciation for the game," Lewan said. "I've never been excited in my life just to practice. I'm just really happy with where I'm at and fortunate to be as healthy as I am."

Lewan was so eager to put the work in that his legs were sore after reporting to camp early to help out some of the younger offensive linemen.

"It's nice to feel the pains of football. I missed it all," Lewan added.

According to Lewan, there were points when he wondered if he'd be the same player on the field again or if he would be strong enough to play. He had no idea how the recovery process was going to be because it was his first time requiring surgery after an injury.

Lewan says he attacked each day like it was a new opportunity to get better, even the days when he didn't want to get out of bed because he was hurting. Lewan said he kept a journal where he'd log what he wanted to accomplish every day. That helped him reset and get through some of the down periods.

As the Titans enter their third week of camp, Lewan says he feels like the same person he was before the knee injury. A lot of that comes from what he calls "an amazing" team that he put together to help him through the rehab process.

His workload has steadily increased to the point where he's taking reps in the team period and going full tilt. Initially, Lewan's reps would conclude on contact. Now it's all the way through the whistle.

Having missed so much time, Lewan is eager to get back on the field. But he has trust in the coaching and training staff to bring him along at the correct pace so he can be ready to go for the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals. There was a time when perhaps things wouldn't have gone so smoothly.

Carter and Lewan didn't exactly hit it off when the two started working together in 2018. Carter admits he came in full of "piss and vinegar" to set a tone with the group. Lewan said there was some resistance, but ultimately Carter has helped elevate his game to another level.

"You go from a guy like [former Titans O-line coach] Russ Grimm, who's a relaxed guy, the type that maybe would have a beer in the morning," Lewan said. "Keith is a high-strung dude. It's a big change. I've never done a good job with authority, and he's definitely an authority figure, so that was a hard thing for me to handle. But I really appreciate Keith and what he's done for this team, especially this offensive line."

Now Lewan and Carter have an excellent relationship to the point where the veteran tackle is a player the coach relies upon to reinforce executing specific techniques and bringing energy to practice.

Lewan can be heard cheering on players and talking trash with the defense. There's a different emotional level when Lewan is on the field.

That stems from when Lewan was in high school playing nose tackle. He posted a video on YouTube of himself playing, thinking it would get him a scholarship. Instead, it brought criticism from a teammate, who said he goes hard only every once in a while.

Lewan vowed to never have his effort questioned again. He wants his energy to rub off on his teammates.

"It's juice, man," Lewan said. "You have millions of people watching, and you have an opportunity to put something on film that everyone around the league is going to judge you for. I love playing football and taking a guy and throwing him to our sidelines and dudes get hyped up."