KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s offensive line was expected to be back up to full strength Monday after a series of injuries, so now the Vols can focus on establishing a starting offensive line.
“We’re going to try to find the best five,” Tennessee offensive line coach Walt Wells said, explaining how the Vols will consider several different combinations leading up to the Sept. 4 opener against Georgia Tech.
“It will be how we finish up camp, and who I think, and who Coach [Butch] Jones, [offensive coordinator] Coach [Larry] Scott and [QBs]Coach [Mike] Canales thinks, so it’s gonna be a group decision.”
Tennessee has six returning offensive linemen who have started a cumulative 98 games, so the sooner the Vols can can sort it out, the better.
There’s a premium on continuity.
Tennessee sophomore Drew Richmond and fifth-year senior Brett Kendrick are considered the favorites to win the tackle positions, and freshman Trey Smith appears to be plugged in at right guard.
But the final two spots — left guard and center — seem to have four players in heated competition.
Senior Jashon Robertson will start, but it has yet to be determined if he will be at center or left guard.
That leaves junior Jack Jones, senior Coleman Thomas and redshirt sophomore Venzell Boulware competing for one remaining starting position.
Wells said Tennessee has focused on building versatility up front this entire offseason.
“If you’re a guard, you should be able to play center, especially mentally,” Wells said. “Obviously the snapping is a concern, but all of our guards get snaps at center, and you are always cross-training people so you’re not pigeon-holed with certain people at certain positions.”
The Vols learned how important versatility was last season when they were forced to start seven different offensive line combinations on account of injuries.
Trey Smith at guard
Smith was the No. 1 recruit in the nation and was projected as a tackle, but it’s not unusual for true freshmen on the offensive line to start their careers inside at guard.
“Trey has really good strength and really good pad level and he’s got power, so that’s what will be best for us as a team, being able to run the football,” Wells explained. “Inside, you’re covered up a little bit, you can get some movement. That’s where he’s best suited right now.”
Marcus Tatum impressing
Sophomore Marcus Tatum could be next man up at the tackle position, where Tennessee has already lost junior Chance Hall and freshman K’Rojhn Calbert to season-ending knee injuries this fall.
“Marcus is doing a better job of understanding, it’s night and day from last year,” Wells said. “He was overwhelmed by the temp, the pace and the strength he was facing.”
Jack Jones flexible
Wells said he has also been impressed by the versatility shown by Jack Jones, who can play center, guard or tackle.
“Jack is having a good camp, he’s been versatile,” Wells said. “Jack has played a little at guard and a little at tackle out of necessity, and he also goes to center-quarterback exchange to get snaps.”