Tennessee football offensive tackle Marcus Tatum is vying to start for the Volunteers. Can the veteran lineman hold off Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright?
As he enters his redshirt junior season for Tennessee football, Marcus Tatum finally has a chance at a season without any distractions. It has been a somewhat rocky first three years for him, and almost none of it was his fault.
In 2016, Tatum was thrown to the wolves as a freshman against the Alabama Crimson Tide before he was ready due to a severity of injuries. The next year, he suffered a season-ending injury. When Jeremy Pruitt arrived and made the transition to a pro-style, Tatum missed the development while sitting out in the spring and still had to start five games last year at tackle.
Simply put, Tatum has yet to be coming off a full offseason in an offense he is familiar with and then play a full season healthy. This is his chance to do that. And wouldn’t you know it? It just happens to be as Tennessee football brings in two elite freshmen who figure to shine at tackle in Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright.
Morris worked his way into the first team in spring ball and now looks like a favorite to start. Wright was the Vols’ one unanimous five-star recruit for 2019, and Jeremy Pruitt is clearly looking for elite linemen to improve the unit given the fact that it was historically bad last year. Tatum playing in 12 games and starting in five on that historically bad line doesn’t help his case.
But not only is this his first opportunity to show his development up front. He also is a returning guy Pruitt wants to rely on. After all, Chance Hall, Nathan Niehaus, Eric Crosby and Melvin McBride all retired due to injuries. Drew Richmond transferred to the USC Trojans. Hall, Niehaus and Richmond all had experience on the outside.
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Meanwhile, Trey Smith appears as if he’s going to be ready. But he still hasn’t been cleared, and there’s a chance the coaches need him at guard. Taking all this into account, Tatum is the one known commodity for Tennessee football this year at tackle.
So can he hold of Morris and Wright, or at least one of them, to maintain a starting role? At 6’6″ 316 pounds, he has earned that chance more than anybody. Both Pruitt and Butch Jones called on Tatum before he was ready over his first three years, and he did show some development last year. Remember what he did against the elite Kentucky Wildcats defense?
Now, given Pruitt’s and Jim Chaney’s desire to run up to 10 offensive linemen, it may be irrelevant if Tatum is a starter or not. He is almost certain to be in the rotation, even if Wright and Morris are in there and Smith comes back at tackle.
With a mark of stability, though, Tatum’s veteran presence will certainly make him a key guy in the unit. He’s somebody UT can’t lose, and his improved conditioning over the summer and full offseason of gaining experience in the pro-style should finally allow him to blossom. Even with the potential Wright and Morris bring, that should be enough to keep Tatum in the starting lineup.