By Vince Ferrara
Offensive Line at Tennessee is today’s early summer position focus as I look at the Tennessee football team.
This is the 5th in a series of nine straight days of separate posts by position. Check my blog page daily here at SportsRadioWNML.com for the other positions.
My current projected starters are in bold. I’ve listed the average star rating entering college from the four major recruiting websites (Rivals, 247Sports, Scout and ESPN.)
51 Drew Richmond R-SO 6’5 301 4*
68 Marcus Tatum SO 6’6 285 3*
57 Nathan Niehaus R-FR 6’6 295 3*
75 Jashon Robertson SR 6’3 305 3*
50 Venzell Boulware R-SO 6’3 306 3*
70 Ryan Johnson R-FR 6’6 275 4*
55 Coleman Thomas SR 6’5 301 3*
56 Riley Locklear FR 6’5 295 3*
63 Brett Kendrick R-SR 6’6 318 3*
66 Jack Jones JR 6’4 307 4*
73 Trey Smith FR 6’6 313 5*
76 Chance Hall JR 6’4 318 3*
77 Devante Brooks R-FR 6’5 255 3*
74 K’Rojhn Calbert FR 6’5 300 3*
Position summary: This is the most experienced position group on the football team. They’ve played a combined 162 games with 110 starts. UT has nine offensive linemen that have played in a game, with seven of the nine having started for the Vols. Four linemen have started double-digit games for UT (Robertson, Thomas, Kendrick and Hall) with Jashon Robertson leading the way with 35 starts in three seasons.
I only listed each player once, so the depth chart wouldn’t work exactly like this above, but it can get too confusing seeing guys listed multiple times. For example, if Thomas starts at center and he goes down, the first move would almost certainly be Robertson moving from LG to C and someone else going to LG.
This group is so interesting because of the versatility many of them have. You can make a case for five players that could start at more than one position along the line. That’s impressive. The only position, and likely starter, that I believe is set, if healthy, is left tackle with Drew Richmond.
The first key decision will be at center. Will it be Coleman Thomas or Jashon Robertson starting? Coleman Thomas is the returning starter, but he missed most of spring practice. Jashon Robertson worked impressively at first-team center most of the spring. If it’s Thomas, then that locks Robertson back in at his normal spot at left guard. If Robertson gets the nod at center, than left guard could go to Jack Jones, Brett Kendrick who is expected to work at guard in fall camp or Venzell Boulware. Redshirt freshman Ryan Johnson worked a lot at 1st team left guard in the spring, with a lot of injuries, but I think that still might be early for him with more experienced options.
Right tackle is the next puzzle piece to be decided. Will it be Chance Hall or Trey Smith who gets the starting spot? If it’s Hall, then Smith will be the right guard. If it’s Smith then right guard will likely go to Brett Kendrick or Jack Jones. I said in the first week of spring practice that I thought Trey Smith would start game one. He’s a five-star talent (#1 overall player for ESPN,) and he’s practiced like it. His great spring coupled with gushing compliments from Butch Jones cemented that in my mind. It’s just a matter of what position for the opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
New o-line coach Walt Wells is crushing it in recruiting. Can he make a big difference with the guys he has now. I love that he’s talked about being more physical and firing off the ball. UT has been too passive within its zone and gap blocking schemes. Can they block with a base (or man) mentality while not changing their schemes? Will they adjust their schemes to vary the techniques and incorporate a tougher, more physical mindset? New strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson will be critical in trying to make this group not only stronger, but meaner and more athletic.
I think the offensive line will be better this year. How much better will have a lot to do with how good or ineffective the offense will be. It needs to be a lot better to offset the production gone from the 2016 offense. Don’t believe the “we have 6, 7, 8 starters” talk this fall camp from the staff. The starters will start, the back-ups will back-up when called upon. However, you should believe the “finding the best 5” comments from the coaches. They have that luxury this season.
Hope you enjoyed my review of the University of Tennessee football offensive line as we sit here in June. Go to my blog page for the rest of the position breakdowns. I have much more to say on UT football than this. Listen for me on Sports Radio WNML, call in and let’s talk some football. Thanks for reading and sharing.