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Ex-Wolverine Lewan seems to be maturing with Titans

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Taylor Lewan and Marcus Mariota

Allen Park – You get the sense Taylor Lewan is maturing.

He's engaged now, and last fall when he had his captaincy stripped by new Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey, Lewan didn't hang his head.

He's come a long way from his college days at Michigan – and, hey, isn't that the point? Growing. Evolving.

"I handled that by just putting my head down and working as hard as I possibly could," Lewan said Wednesday, on a conference call with Detroit media, talking about having the "C" stripped by Mularkey last November.

"Obviously, it never feels good when your 'C' gets taken away, but it's part of the job. When a new head coach is put in, he has his thoughts about what needs to happen.

"So my job is to play left tackle and focus on that."

Lewan, fellow offensive lineman Jack Conklin (Michigan State) and the Titans visit Detroit to play the Lions at Ford Field on Sunday afternoon.

Lewan didn't want to talk about Michigan, or any sort of homecoming.

For him, he said, "It's a business trip."

It's that kind of attitude from Lewan – who's 25, and in his third year starting in the league after being drafted No. 11 overall in 2014 – that Mularkey likes, not to mention his toughness. The whole captain thing? Turns out, that apparently was misinterpreted as some sort of demotion.

"At the time, I thought he was put in a tough position," said Mularkey, who was the Titans' tight ends coach in 2014 and then added the tag of assistant head coach in 2015, before taking over as coach for the fired Ken Whisenhunt (remember him, Lions fans?). "I think there was a lot of weight put on his shoulders when he was named the captain, and since that day that I did that, he has steadily gotten better. Almost immediately when all that pressure was taken off him, his performance has dramatically changed.

"I mean, he's as tough as there is on our offense line, I can promise you that."

As the Titans’ left tackle, Lewan is charged with protecting the blind side of franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Lewan, who moves much quicker than any 6-foot-7, 309-pound behemoth should move, seemed to cause a stink this spring about not wanting move to right tackle. Mularkey said Wednesday there was never a serious discussion about making that move, anyway.

Jack Conklin

At right tackle, instead, is rookie Conklin, 22, the No. 8 overall pick in April, out of Michigan State. Conklin started Week 1, in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The two one-time Big Ten rivals locker right next to each other.

"It's kind of hard to believe he was a walk-on," Lewan said. "Michigan definitely missed the boat on offering that kid. He plays extremely hard. He knows his assignments; just a real, solid right tackle.

"We spend a lot of time together. Every time we go off the field, we're talking about what their (defensive) end did, what his end, what my end did, what work we did do, what we didn't do good, and what we need to work on."

(Interestingly, there's a first-round tackle from Ohio State set to suit up in this game too – Lions rookie Taylor Decker.)

Mularkey, too, has been impressed with Conklin.

"You would not know he's a rookie," he said. "It's unfortunate that we had an injury at that position (Byron Bell), but for his sake, it was probably the best thing that happened to him. He's come in here and hasn't missed a beat with our O-line.

"He's been everything we thought – he's tough, I like his physicality, that's what we want.

"He doesn't say a lot, but his actions speak volumes."

Lions have problem on defense vs. tight ends

Speaking of that ... Lewan's actions used to speak volumes in college, too, though not always in a good way. At Michigan, he often made headlines for abhorrent actions off of the field, as well as some questionable moments on the field.

Those seem well in the past now – really ever since he signed that four-year, $11.485-million, all-guaranteed deal as a rookie – just as he seems very at peace in his personal life, having become engaged to Taylin Gallacher in June.

"I definitely picked the right one, for sure," said Lewan, who had an injury-plagued rookie year, then started all but one game last season. "I couldn't be happier."

Same goes for his mustache game, by the way.

"If there were a Pro Bowl for mustaches, mine would be in the Pro Bowl," Lewan said, in a deadpan tone, of his handle-bar whiskers.

Of course, if Lewan had to choose, he'd prefer he be in the Pro Bowl, over his facial hair.

And those days could be coming – so long as he cleans up mistakes like ones he made in the season-opening loss.

Fans who watched him play at Michigan won't be surprised he got called for a couple self-described "dumb" penalties. Those need to go, he knows.

It's all part of the evolution.

"I'm sure if you guys follow Michigan football at all, a consistent theme of mine is getting penalties, and that is not something that I want to continue," said Lewan, called for holding and off-sides in Week 1. "I have to take responsibility for those actions."

Twitter @tonypaul1984