Does anybody have questions now about how physical Tennessee football can be? All the talk of Josh Heupel’s offense is about the high-powered passing attack, and that certainly warrants lots of praise. However, what they’ve done up front is the real story.
On Monday, Darnell Wright earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. It’s the third straight week a Vol has won the award and the second time in three weeks Wright won the award. Yes, amidst the insane numbers the Vols are putting up, the line is having the most standout performers week to week.
Wright is Tennessee football’s only player who was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, and he has either switched systems or positions up front each of the past three years. This offseason, Heupel and Glen Elarbee moved him back over to right tackle, where he started under Jeremy Pruitt.
That move has worked to perfection. Wright had been handling some of the best pass rushers in the SEC and now looks like an NFL Draft prospect. He shut down Will Anderson Jr. of the Alabama Crimson Tide, which truly turned him into a household name in the league.
Beyond Wright, though, the Vols’ interior blocking has been elite. In between Wright’s two SEC Player of the Week awards, Jerome Carvin earned it for his play against the UT-Martin Skyhawks. Carvin is a senior like right, and both are playing like it right now.
Three weeks earlier, in their win over the Florida Gators, the Vols’ guard opposite Carvin, Javontez Spraggins, won the award. Cooper Mays at center is the anchor and play-caller of both of them, so both awards are his awards to a certain degree.
It’s not just on the offensive side where the Vols are tougher in the trenches either. Omari Thomas is anchoring an interior defensive line that has been behind turning Tennessee football into one of the best rush defenses in the nation.
Byron Young has twice earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, against the LSU Tigers and Pittsburgh Panthers. That means every game the Vols have played this year against a Power Five foe, a lineman has an SEC award.
Remember when Phillip Fulmer was drawn to Pruitt because of his defensive credentials and noted that such defensive minds bring the proper toughness mentality required in the SEC? Well, based on the trenches, Heupel is bringing it a lot more.
Elarbee and Rodney Garner are huge parts of that, as both have done a great job shoring up their teams in the trenches. One part not talked about on offense is the spot Wright vacated, left tackle. Gerald Mincey has gotten better every week occupying that role, and Jeremiah Crawford has been solid as well.
Taking all of this into account, this last award shows Tennessee football is one of the best teams in the SEC up front. The idea that Heupel’s system would involve dominating the line of scrimmage is pretty funny now. UT has done that week to week, and combining that with their skill players, they are scary.