Tennessee football offensive lineman Nathan Niehaus is leaving the program. But could that mean that the Volunteers are building up depth on their line?
Jeremy Pruitt delivered the worst news Tennessee football could possibly get in his Wednesday media session with Emmit Gooden’s season-ending injury. He also delivered more news that seems like a blow to the trenches with offensive lineman Nathan Niehaus.
According to Pruitt, Niehaus has made the decision to leave the program. The former lineman has experienced at tackle and guard and started six games last year. When asked if it was Niehaus’s decisions, he said “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”
On paper, this seems like a big blow. The Vols already had a historically bad offensive line last year. Trey Smith still isn’t back from his blood clots. Eric Crosby and incoming recruit Melvin McBride were forced to retire due to injury. That also applies to Chance Hall, who was a regular contributor. Drew Richmond, another contributor, has transferred to the USC Trojans.
As a result, Tennessee football would not appear to be in decent position to lose offensive linemen with starting experience. However, this may actually mean something better is happening up front than we know. And it’s based on other events.
Even with McBride’s retirement, Pruitt had a historically great class up front, including five-star Darnell Wright and four-stars Chris Akporoghene, Jackson Lampley and Wanya Morris. Akproghene and Morris were early enrollees, and Morris, who was once a five-star unanimously, worked his way onto the first team in the spring game.
Combine that with Brandon Kennedy returning to health along with the emergence of K’Rojhn Calbert and the likely development of Jerome Carvin, and the Vols actually have a few more options up front than people might think. As a result, one reason to quit the team may be because you’re falling into the middle of the pack.
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Could the be the case for Niehaus? He did, after all, fall to the second team in the spring game, and that was a big deal. Even Riley Locklear, a guard who was limited due to injury in the spring, fell to the second team. Maybe the interior line truly is developing.
What if Niehaus quit because Kennedy back at center means he’ll be too far buried in the depth chart with Ryan Johnson moving back over to guard and then Calbert, Carvin and Locklear all being ahead of him? Could the redshirt junior prefer using his two years left of eligibility somewhere else? Hey, it’s a strong possibility.
At 6’6″ 300 pounds, his experience is at tackle and guard, to be fair. But what if Morris and Wright are just making a major splash at tackle while Marcus Tatum, another veteran, continues to hold onto a spot? Given all those bodies, wouldn’t the only reason for a redshirt junior with starting experience leaving the team be if there’s too much competition building?
Hey, it’s possible. And it could also be telling. Don’t get me wrong, the news overall for the day is still net horrible on Rocky Top when it comes to Gooden’s injury. But Niehaus leaving may not mean everything bad for Tennessee football that we think. Everybody is just going to have to wait and see.