Tennessee football’s offensive line was horrible last year. But there is reason to believe in the Volunteers at that position for 2018.
Last year was a bit of an oxymoron for Tennessee football. The offensive line may have been the absolute worst unit on the roster in a historically bad season. However, it was also the one unit that produced a recognizable star in Trey Smith.
Of course, there is plenty of reason for the issues on the line. Injuries wrecked the Vols overall, but it was especially bad up front, to the point that Brett Kendrick may have played with a concussion. Add in Venzell Boulware leaving the program and the horrific coaching of Larry Scott, and they really never had a chance.
One quick glance at last year’s play combined the switch to a pro-style offense this year under Jeremy Pruitt and Tyson Helton would suggest another rough season up front. Smith’s offseason health issues only seem to exacerbate that. However, look closer.
The Vols have 20 official linemen on the roster, five of whom are walk-ons. What about the other 15? Well, the experience and recruiting rankings of many of these guys shows that the Vols should have enough to work with.
Smith has a clean bill of health, and his play speaks for itself on the inside. Then there’s Chance Hall. He proved himself to be an elite tackle as a freshman for the Vols, and the only question now is how healthy he can get.
On the other side, speaking of tackle, Drew Richmond has shown enough flashes of being the five-star recruit he was back in 2015. It’s very clear he can be an elite blindside tackle on a consistent basis with the right coaching.
That makes for three guys that we are almost sure can be reliable for the Vols. You only need five at a time. Well, there’s a reason that Nick Saban fought to keep former Alabama Crimson Tide center Brandon Kennedy from transferring to the Vols.
His experience at center in a pro-style offense and the way coaches fought over the graduate transfer who has two years left this past summer makes it pretty clear he’s an elite guy. So that means Tennessee football should be set at center with him.
Then you’ve got Jerome Carvin, Ryan Johnson and Riley Locklear. Locklear and Johnson gained some experience down the stretch of last year, with Johnson even playing some center. Carvin is a new recruit who was an early enrollee. All three guys were four-star recruits, so at least one of them should work out, right?
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Add in Jahmir Johnson, a three-star junior college transfer, and you’ve got eight guys already with three being a sure bet to work out. Again, you only need five. Are we to believe that offensive line coach Will Friend can’t find two guys among a proven lineman returning from injury, a highly sought-after junior college transfer, two four-stars with experience and another who was an early enrollee. The odds are highly in his favor.
You can also add two more guys with experience to the list in Marcus Tatum and Nathan Niehaus. Both were three-star recruits who have struggled significantly when being in the game, but there’s reason to believe they are reliable bodies. In fact, they could definitely be fighting for starting jobs.
That makes for 10 guys Tennessee football can take a look at, and they only need two of seven to work out in order to have a complete rotation. Now, they do need more when it comes to depth. But that’s where Friend can turn to any of the other five or even third-stringers who could be in the fight like Ollie Lane or K’Rojhn Calbert. What are the chances all of those players fail to provide reliable depth for the Vols?
There are indeed lots of questions on the offensive line for the Vols this year. And yes, nothing is a guarantee. But a breakdown of the roster shows that, barring another barrage of injuries, the unit should be much better than people think. It could actually become a strength of the team in due time. So hey, maybe Tennessee football will get back to the trenches under Pruitt after all.