1. Offensive and defensive lines just need more time to gel.
Yes, the line play was the biggest reason for Tennessee football’s loss on Saturday. All the defensive issues came from the line not being able to get a push. That was the big reason for Dan Ellington looking like a star.
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Meanwhile, the offense was forced to kick two field goals, had one drive stall on fourth down, punted another time and then saw Jarrett Guarantano fumble on a strip-sack all because of blocking issues.
But did anybody expect these issues not to exist early? The Vols lost all three starting defensive linemen last year and one of their contributors. Then, their only returning contributor suffered a season-ending injury to start the season. They also didn’t find out one of their transfers, Aubrey Solomon, would be eligible to play until the week of the game.
Solomon is the only guy on the line with any experience playing at the FBS level. Of course they were going to struggle! Meanwhile, the offensive line was littered with inexperience too, and it was historically bad last year.
Add in the poor O-line play with Drew Richmond’s transfer and the retirements of Nathan Niehaus, Chance Hall, Eric Crosby and even incoming recruit Melvin McBride, and it was clear Jeremy Pruitt would have issues here. Trey Smith returning helped, but it was last-minute just like Solomon. And Brandon Kennedy is still returning from a season-ending injury.
There’s a reason Tennessee football is turning to two true freshmen to be in its rotation at tackle. Simply put, the Vols still have a lot of talent on both sides of the trenches. But there is almost no experience. As these guys develop, they will get better. We saw improvement up front last year until Smith’s blood clots kept him out in November. Improvement should happen again this year.