9. Offensive line
Last year’s offensive line for Tennessee football was historically bad. Numerous advanced stats prove it, including how much pressure Jarrett Guarantano was under and how many times running backs were hit behind the line of scrimmage. Then they were horrible in the spring game.
To make matters worse, though, the Vols lost Drew Richmond to transfer, Chance Hall to retirement and are still without their best player at the position, Trey Smith, who continues to deal with blood clots.
That makes three key players from last year’s already bad line out at this moment. Add in the retirements of Eric Crosby and incoming recruit Melvin McBride, and it’s pretty clear why this unit belongs at the bottom. Simply put, Will Friend has his work cut out for him.
However, there is some good news. Despite McBride’s retirement, Jeremy Pruitt scored huge up front on the recruiting trail with three four-stars Jackson Lampley, early enrollees Chris Akporoghene and Wanya Morris, and five-star by Darnell Wright. In the spring, Morris worked his way onto the first team, and Wright brings expectations this fall.
Meanwhile, Brandon Kennedy is back and healthy to take over the starting center position, which could move Ryan Johnson back to guard. This shows why it’s ahead of the defensive line. There are more returning starters, and while Emmit Gooden is out, Kennedy is back.
The rest of the guys, like Marcus Tatum, K’Rojhn Calbert, Jerome Carvin, Jahmir Johnson, Nathan Niehaus and Riley Locklear, have had a full offseason now in the pro-style after most of them missing spring in 2018. And Smith could still play.
Finally, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is not coaching a position this year, but he specializes in the line. So with more experience, more bodies, more coaching and better health, the unit could improve. We have to believe it when we see it, though, given what happened in 2018. So the line stays near the bottom for now.