AFC South: Brad Hopkins

Chance WarmackAl Bello/Getty ImagesIt's been 30 years since the Titans franchise drafted a guard in the first round.
NASHVILLE -- The last two guards drafted by the Tennessee Titans franchise, Hall of Famers Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews, just oversaw the selection of another.

Alabama’s Chance Warmack is so football-focused, he got his license only last year. He's so strong, the Titans said he moved SEC defensive linemen like no one else. He's so in love with the idea of playing for these two coaches, he didn't hold a private workout for anyone else.

I’ve known Munchak and Matthews since 1996. I can’t recall ever seeing the two low-key, business-like football men beam quite so brightly. The glow they gave off at the news conference at the Titans' headquarters after making the 10th pick made me believe it when they said there was no question Warmack was their man early on -- something virtually every coach stated Thursday night.

A few days after Alabama’s pro day, Munchak and Matthews got Warmack on the field with Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker in Tuscaloosa. The coaches put the prospects through a difficult 90-minute workout that helped transform Matthews into a believer.

“Really, for me, I go in very skeptical on linemen that I’ve heard about,” Matthews said. “Because typically they’re a product of the team they play on. Alabama having such a great tradition and on such a hit streak, you kind of think they’ve got a bunch of other guys on the team pumping him up.

“I went in very skeptical, wanting to shoot him down at every turn. And really I think what sold me on him was every time I was with him, I got excited about the opportunity to watch him play and coach him. He has the demeanor and the mindset and he plays the style that we are looking for.”

Warmack spoke in advance of the draft about Tennessee being a dream destination. He’s from Atlanta and went to Alabama. In addition to playing in the Southeast, he craved the coaching the Titans could offer, considering he’d never played for a coach who’d actually played offensive line before.

“They put me through the wringer,” he said, recounting the private workout. “I felt like I put everything into what I did, and throughout my visit we had a great time going over plays and I felt like we hit it off pretty well.”

The franchise hasn’t drafted a first-round guard since Matthews in 1983, ninth overall, and Munchak in 1982, eighth overall. Years later, they presented each other into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As a longtime offensive line coach, Munchak frequently develops midround picks into capable players. He was promoted to head coach in 2011 and hired Matthews, his closest friend, to take over his old job.

Fifth-rounder Benji Olson and third-rounder Zach Piller were the starting guards on the Titans' Super Bowl team in 1999. Free agents such as Kevin Mawae, Fred Miller, Jake Scott have been splashed in, but homegrown and developed guys were far more frequent pieces.

None came in the first round since Brad Hopkins in 1993, and only 1996 bust Jason Layman and current left tackle Michael Roos were drafted as high as the second round.

Investing through the draft has proven insufficient recently. Leroy Harris and Eugene Amano were counted on to develop into reliable pieces and didn’t do enough.

The Titans thought they could make it through last season. They added Steve Hutchinson, the well-credentialed veteran guard. He didn’t bring much and then got hurt, like virtually every other lineman on the team.

General manager Ruston Webster and Munchak huddled after the season and decided it was time. When free agency opened, they landed top available guard, Buffalo’s Andy Levitre, with a six-year, $46.8 million contract.

Now they drafted Warmack. He will shift from his college position on the left to the right and be a fixture on the more powerful side of the line.

“To me, he is the complete package,” Munchak said. “He loves the game; he has a passion for it. Spending time with Bruce and I, he loved hearing the stories of linemen of the past, talking about the history of the game. For a young guy, that’s rare that he’s interested in those types of things. Obviously, we all hit it off pretty well.

“I think he wanted to be a Titan the whole time and he didn't hide his feelings on that.”

Warmack said he weighs 325 pounds and anticipates playing at 325 or 330.

Tim Ruskell scouts the Southeast for the Titans and said the sort of power he saw from Warmack is rare in the NFL. He saw Hutchinson up close in Seattle, where he was dominant at the start of his career. The way Warmack plays will mean the Titans can do anything they want behind him.

“He can explode with his hips and he can get in and get movement versus bigger people,” Ruskell said. “He played against so many good defensive linemen that were strong and stout. We didn’t see a lot of guys moving those guys. But when you watch Chance, he was able to get movement, he was able to seal run lanes -- that kind of power. It’s the power to anchor, it’s the power to explode and get movement versus bigger people.

“... It just sets him apart from the normal offensive linemen that you tend to look at. That is what got our attention, and then it is aggression -- the aggression and the want-to and to sustain and finish the block. Coaches always talk finish. This guy has finish. It is a big thing that seems simple, but it is a big deal. When you see it and the combination of what he has, I think it is a rare trait.”
Posted by's Paul Kuharsky
  AP Photo/George Walker IV, Pool
  Former Titans players, including Brad Hopkins, top left, and Benji Olson, top right, served as pallbearers at the memorial service.

WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- For all who watched Steve McNair assisted off the field during his 13 seasons as an NFL quarterback, the conclusion of his memorial service was especially tough to digest.

Pallbearers who played with him surrounded his casket, lifted it and carried it out of Mount Zion Baptist Church, surely hoping they were also transporting at least a degree of the pain shared by the family, the franchise, the city and the league.

"That was tough, to carry his casket out," Eddie George said. "Right after they said those kind words, they said the eulogy, reality set back in again, that he has to go to his final resting place. Knowing that's Steve's remains, that's his shell in that casket, that's not Steve, and I'm not going to remember him in that capacity. This is a part of the process, this is closure for us, for me. Now the healing can begin, and I don't know how long it will take."

  AP Photo/George Walker IV, Pool
  Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason takes part in a memorial service for Steve McNair.

In his eulogy at the conclusion of a service that included impressive versions of "Press On" and "God is Able," Bishop Joseph W. Walker III called McNair "a humanitarian, a philanthropist, a supreme athlete, a motivator, an entrepreneur." In citing the biblical instruction that one without sin cast the first stone, Walker said it was "time to have a stone-dropping service."

During the memorial, Jeff Fisher told a story of McNair considering giving up the game in 2000 after suffering a sternum injury and conveyed the condolences of a high-ranking military official he met just last week while visiting troops in the Persian Gulf.

Later, the Titans coach said he was sure even more of McNair's old teammates wanted to attend but could not. Fisher said that he might soon take McNair's sons fishing.

Asked about watching George, Samari Rolle, Zach Piller, Kevin Long, Frank Wycheck, Brad Hopkins, Benji Olson, Kevin Carter and Vince Young lift McNair's coffin and walk it out the door, Fisher said he couldn't put words to his thoughts.

"I can't describe that, no," he said.

Plenty of others leaving the church felt the same way.

Count me among them.


An add to the previous entry, which included a list of many of the most notable players in attendance. I later spotted several others, including Keith Bulluck, Bo Scaife, Young, Fred Miller, Drew Bennett and Kenny Holmes.

  AP Photo
  Steve McNair saw limited time at quarterback in his rookie season in 1995, giving him time to hone his craft.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Steve McNair might be the last big quarterback drafted in the first round out of a historically black college, Len Pasquarelli wrote Monday.

The former Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens quarterback, who was shot and killed on Saturday, also might be one of the last quarterbacks drafted high to benefit from a team's plan to bring him along slowly.

As a rookie in 1995 with the then-Houston Oilers, he sat the first 12 games except for two series of mop-up action in one game. In the first 27 games of his career, McNair had one start. Then he took over as the lead guy.

Starting line
Steve McNair made just six starts in his first two seasons, fewer than any top-10 quarterback drafted since 1995 besides San Diego's Philip Rivers. Here's a list of starts in first two seasons for QBs who were top-10 picks since 1995.
Rookie Year Player Starts in first two seasons
2004 Philip Rivers 0
1995 Steve McNair 6
1998 Ryan Leaf 9*
2003 Carson Palmer 13
1999 Akili Smith 15
2001 Michael Vick 17
2006 Matt Leinart 16
2007 JaMarcus Russell 16
2008 Matt Ryan 16+
1999 Tim Couch 21
1999 Donovan McNabb 22
2004 Eli Manning 23
1995 Kerry Collins 25
2005 Alex Smith 25
2002 David Carr 27
2003 Byron Leftwich 27
2002 Joey Harrington 28
2006 Vince Young 28
1998 Peyton Manning 32
* Did not play in 1999
+One season
--David Bearman, ESPN Stats & Information
San Diego's Philip Rivers worked behind Drew Brees his first two years, appearing in four games and starting none. Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, the top pick in the 2003 draft, didn't play a snap as a rookie before taking over as the starter in Year 2.

But more and more, giving a young quarterback time to observe early-on is a luxury teams simply can't afford.

A team that spends a top-10 pick on a quarterback has made a huge financial investment. He's a guy expected to turn the team around. He's probably lined up as the franchise's top marketing tool. And the possibility of having a quality veteran willing to take on a short-term job ahead of him is lower now, as there are typically plenty of teams offering better opportunity.

And, of course, if a team waits on the kid, it could wind up developing a guy who will move on as a free agent and play his best football somewhere else. Or the team puts itself in a position to have to make a decision on a second contract before it knows exactly what it has.

The Titans intended to bring Vince Young along in a fashion similar to the one they utilized with McNair. An 0-5 start in 2006 and a nudge from the team's owner changed that, but ultimately the job proved too much for Young and the Titans turned to Kerry Collins.

"I think times have changed and you'd want to see him play sooner," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of the likelihood a high pick ever gets the sort of developmental plan McNair got. "We clearly had a plan and that was to bring him along slowly. But it's hard to say, they are all different. ...

"We may have been to the Super Bowl in [1998], who knows if Steve had played earlier. But you won't see that approach again in this day and age."

Jerry Rhome, the Oilers' offensive coordinator for McNair's first two years with the club, said the young quarterback handled the apprentice period well.

"He was not ready to play.... Jumping from Alcorn State to the NFL, that's a heck of a jump even though he had a lot of ability," Rhome said. "It was a really good situation, a luxury where you could let him bide his time and to get better and better. I don't think there is any doubt, if you've got the luxury, it's going to help the quarterback. That's not a bad thing at all. If you're in dire need, that may be a different ball game."

Rhome said that while Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Joe Flacco in Baltimore came out and did well as rookies last year, both had spent five years in college and had experience at major programs -- Ryan at BC, Flacco at Pittsburgh before he transferred to Delaware.

By design, the 1995-96 Oilers had a quarterback they were comfortable starting while McNair watched.

Chris Chandler played some good football for them those two seasons, but later admitted he didn't approach the mentoring aspect of his job as he should have. The unflappable McNair never seemed to let that bother him, and he went on to be especially kind to young quarterbacks who were on the roster during his career.

Brad Hopkins played left tackle for McNair's Oilers and Titans, protecting the quarterback's blindside. He thought the franchise's approach with McNair early on really helped set him on the right course.

"Have you seen these young quarterbacks falling by the wayside?" Hopkins asked. "Do you know why they are? Because the pressure is immense for young quarterbacks to get in and respond when they don't have the maturity level to do that. We expect Vince Young to come in here and perform at a Brett Favre-type level when he just put away his Texas Longhorns helmet.

"It's just not going to happen. Because not only is it a physical process, it's a mental process to be able to grasp the pressures of being an NFL quarterback. For [McNair] to have two years watching other quarterbacks grow and make mistakes, that definitely [helped] his career. It made him a better person. Because here he is, knowing he's not capable of leading this team and accepting that, waiting his time, waiting his turn and then taking advantage of it once it got there."


One extra: Doug Farrar crunched McNair's numbers for The Washington Post and concluded his body of work is most similar to those of Phil Simms, Steve Bartkowski and Jim Kelly.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Metro Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron just told local press that the semiautomatic pistol that killed Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi was purchased by Kazemi on Thursday from a private individual.

Still, police await results of ballistic and gunshot residue testing and Aaron said a classification of Kazemi's death will not be made before those tests are completed.

McNair's death Saturday has been classified as a homicide. He was shot twice in the chest and twice in the head. Kazemi was shot once in the head, and the gun was found under her body.

Police have also said McNair, who was married, and Kazemi were in a "dating relationship" for several months and that she drove a Cadillac Escalade that had a title in both of their names.

The Tennessean's Kate Howard reports that three of McNair's four wounds resulted from gunshots from more than three feet away and that the gun was touching Kazemi's head when it was fired.

Earlier Monday afternoon, Titans coach Jeff Fisher spoke publicly for the first time since returning from a trip to the Middle East to visit with troops.

At Titans headquarters, Fisher and two former teammates of McNair's, Eddie George and Brad Hopkins, urged fans and observers to set aside the circumstances of McNair's death and resist the temptation to judge him.

Find the story I did on that right here.



Sunday, 1/25