KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With starting center Dylan Wiesman likely sidelined Saturday against top-ranked Alabama, No. 9 Tennessee must reshuffle its offensive line once again this season.
Wiesman left the Volunteers loss at Texas A&M with a head injury after taking a blow late in the first quarter. The senior was replaced by veteran Coleman Thomas, who actually started UT’s first two games at center in 2016 before being moved to right tackle and then the bench after struggling with multiple ankle injuries.
Finally healthy, Thomas played well in relief on Saturday, though, giving offensive coordinator Mike DeBord confidence in Tennessee’s makeshift unit heading into a daunting challenge against No. 1 Alabama (3:30 p.m., CBS).
“I thought Coleman had one of his better games — and I’m talking last year and this year, whatever,” DeBord said.
“I thought he played with really good leverage and then he had more power. He brought his feet. He continued to finish blocks. I thought it was his best game leverage and power wise. It was good to see.”
Thomas started 18 games the previous two seasons for Tennessee, but the junior was slowed in training camp by multiple nagging injures. Over the last several weeks, the coaching staff has continuously praised Thomas’ toughness and guile, so coach Butch Jones wasn’t surprised when the junior had success upon being pressed into action against the Aggies.
“We thought he did some very, very good things,” Jones said.
“Coleman has worked exceptionally hard to get his health back. Getting ready to play winning football for us.”
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Venzell Boulware was also forced into the lineup last week, as left guard Jashon Robertson went down with an undisclosed leg injury.
Robertson is questionable against Alabama, so Boulware, who saw a few initial snaps against Florida several weeks ago, could make his first-career start against the Crimson Tide this weekend.
“Venzell has had some reps this season, but not a lot,” DeBord said.
“But in practice, he just keeps getting better and better and better. We always talk about the next man up, and you have to be ready, and he did a good job of that.”
However the Volunteers ultimately line up on Saturday, the unit faces a tall task, as Alabama ranks third nationally in sacks (23) and second in the SEC in tackles for loss (42).
“The entire (OL) is gaining confidence as the season progresses,” Jones said.
“But we’re facing our toughest challenge to date.”