Spend a few minutes with Titans rookie Chance Warmack, and you get the feeling that he doesn’t take much for granted.
Consider his reaction when someone pointed out to Warmack in early September that the paper tag above his locker had been replaced by a metal plate. Never mind that being a first-round pick, not to mention the 10th overall pick of the draft as Warmack was, assures that you have a great chance to start in the NFL from day one. Instead, Warmack didn’t even assume he’d make the team.
“They put that up? I didn’t even see that,” Warmack said, referring to the nameplate. “It makes me feel good to know I’m a part of this team and part of the 53-man roster. We’ve got a long road ahead, and I want to do whatever it takes to help the team.”
That kind of attitude is what’s helped Warmack get this far. The affable Atlantan has always taken football one step at a time. Even when he starred at Westlake HIgh — which produced NFL talent like Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton and former Titans No. 1 pick Adam “Pacman” Jones — Warmack assumed nothing and took the college recruiting process as it came. Coaches told him to play well and get film out to coaches, and things would take care of themselves.
“I just kept everything in perspective. I took baby steps all the time. I always looked at realistic goals for myself. When I found out what (recruiting website) Rivals was, I wanted to be on Rivals. I didn’t care where I was ranked… I wound up being ranked No. 20 (among offensive guards), I was ecstatic about that. From there, it just got better and better. I got a couple of letters from some schools, got a scholarship, was really happy about that,” remembers Warmack.
The process led him to Alabama, where he enrolled in January 2009 after finishing high school a semester early. Alabama has been a veritable factory for producing NFL linemen — Dwight Stephenson, John Hannah and Chris Samuels, just to name a few — but the 17-year-old Warmack was too focused on getting better to grow prideful over being part of such a great program.
“It was kind of an introduction (to Alabama’s tradition) because I really didn’t know too much about all that coming out of high school. I was figuring out how to play football for real — the actual rules and technique. In high school, I was pretty much just playing just to play. When I got to college, I actually understood the history and tradition and the technique, looking at guys who came before me that were doing well,” Warmack said.
The Crimson Tide was even more loaded on the offensive line than usual, but Warmack managed to play five games as a freshman on a national title team. As a sophomore, he replaced All-American Mike Johnson and started all 13 games. His junior season brought second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors and another national title and interest from the NFL.
But again, Warmack’s humility kicked in: he felt he had more to learn, and he returned for his senior season.
“It started to click for me, especially in mid-junior year. I started to understand how to use my hands and leverage and everything, and I think that’s all it’s about. I think the faster you understand, ‘Okay, I messed up on this, now it’s time to make an adjustment,’ the better player you’ll be, because it’s not always about who’s the fastest or strongest. It’s about who’s the smartest player,” Warmack said.
That, too, ended well: the Crimson Tide won another national championship, and Warmack was a unanimous first team All-American. Along with Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones and fellow first-round lineman D.J. Fluker, Warmack will be remembered as part of what is perhaps the best offensive line in the history of college football.
Whatever interest the NFL had before had now grown. Guards are rarely picked in the top 10 of the NFL Draft, but Warmack’s mom, whom he calls “the fortune teller,” had a premonition that the Titans, picking 10th, would nab her son.
“Funny story – I was in Los Angeles training, and me and my mom always talk every night, and she actually called me up looking over the teams that would be interested in guards, and she told me the Titans would be a really big possibility, because she knows about football a lot, too,” Warmack recalls. “I started laughing. I was like, ‘Mom, do you really think that could happen?'”
Mom was right. Tennessee offensive line coach Bruce Matthews had become a Warmack advocate. Warmack measured just under 6-foot-2, but at 335 pounds with long arms, the Hall of Fame lineman didn’t have any doubt that Warmack could play in Nashville.
“He was a guy we wanted, so (drafting him) was just more or less a culmination of that process. My hope was that no one took him before we had an opportunity to, because I knew that if he was available, we’d take him. I was very happy,” Matthews said.
After playing for demanding coach Nick Saban’s dynasty at Alabama and playing against the SEC’s best every week, Warmack figured he’d have an edge once he hit the NFL. He soon found out that wasn’t true, even to the point of likening it to switching a college major from math to language arts.
“It’s the technique,” Warmack said. “You’ve got to understand that you’re not the strongest guy on the line any more. You can’t over-power guys like you could in college. The number of exceptional players is way bigger in the NFL than it is in college. You might have one or two or three great players in that whole (college) season, but in the league, everybody’s great. Everybody’s got a different move.
“You think you’ve figured it out, you’ve got a guy you haven’t heard about from a college you haven’t heard about doing great things. You’ve just constantly got to be on your ‘A’ game.”
Of course, Warmack figured it out quickly and plugged into the Titans’ opening day starting lineup at right guard. It’s a place that Matthews feels he’ll occupy for years to come.
“He’s a big, physical kid. His mindset is everything that we’re hoping to establish as an offense,” Matthews says. “He’s big, physical, and he’ll get after you. He really enjoys the game. He wants to learn. He understands he has a lot to learn. There’s no pride there, and he’s very open to everything we coached him on. He’s really been a pleasure to work with.”