If there is one player that most Tennessee coaches and fans would love to see lock down a role during spring practice, it’s redshirt freshman offensive lineman Drew Richmond.
For coaches, he could be a dream player. Richmond is 6-foot-5 and 301 pounds with range, length and athleticism. Physically, he’s everything a coach could want at left tackle, which is widely regarded as one of the most important positions on the field.
For fans, Richmond is already a favorite from his recruiting days. In 2015, the Memphis, Tenn., native de-committed from Ole Miss just two days before signing with the Vols on National Signing Day.
Yet there’s one problem. Throughout most of his career in high school and his one season at Tennessee, Richmond has played right tackle.
“It’s tough,” offensive line coach Don Mahoney said of making the switch from right to left tackle. “It’s tough from this standpoint, just constantly getting in that routine of taking the consistent footwork, particularly pass sets.”
The challenge is made even tougher by the fact that Richmond is still just a year removed from high school.
“Older guys tend to be able to switch positions a little bit easier because they have the ability to flip the stances and adjust to that,” Mahoney said. “With younger guys, it’s difficult because mentally they’re changing their stance. Mentally, they’re changing the actual call. There’s a lot of things that come into play. You try to keep young guys in a specific spot and allow them to gain some confidence there, then move forward.”
“He wants to be great,” offensive coordinator Mike DeBord added. “He is inconsistent right now. He does some really good stuff and then there will be some other things that he really needs to get corrected. He’s just going through the process of learning that position right now.”
So is Richmond’s move – albeit awkward – permanent or just a test to see if he can handle the transition? Tennessee’s coaches would love for him to emerge as a no-brainer first teamer, especially since junior Brett Kendrick seems to be locking down the right tackle position.
“Brett Kendrick, so far, has probably been playing his best football,” Mahoney said. “He’s playing at a different level. He’s playing extremely confident. He’s one guy that has separated himself thus far early on.”
Now the Vols just need the same from Richmond, but it will be an uphill battle for the less experienced bookend.
“I’ve been around offensive lineman just about my entire career in some way or another,” DeBord said. “That’s a position that one false step, one shoulder down or one wrong angle, then they’re in trouble…You’re playing in a telephone booth and you have to do everything right. It’s just the consistency of it.”