KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The future of Tennessee football was on display against Southern Miss in the form of sixth, seventh and eighth different offensive line combinations.
Tennessee OT 73 Trey Smith; lift the double & finish the 2nd level. High end zone look much better but impressive either way. pic.twitter.com/IYletL7WcI
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) November 7, 2017
Freshman Trey Smith made his first career start at left tackle after playing guard all season, and redshirt freshmen linemen Ryan Johnson and Devante Brooks made the first starts of their careers at right guard and right tackle.
Smith has been the Vols’ most dominant offensive lineman throughout the season. A shoo-in Freshman All-American who warrants All-SEC consideration, Smith has the look of a future All-American and Outland Trophy candidate.
Smith has lived up to his billing as ESPN’s No. 1-rated 2017 recruit in a season otherwise filled with disappointment on offense, bringing a physical presence that will rub off on teammates in the coming seasons.
— Marc Whiteman (@MarcWhiteman) November 5, 2017
“Trey brings aggressive play and energy to the field,” said Johnson, who has proven a bit chippy himself in his limited action this season. “He’s a good guy and he knows what he’s doing — an all-around good football player and good person.”
Indeed, Smith is a big enough person to move on from the practice fight with sophomore defensive end Darrell Taylor that left him with a scar on his left cheek that will require plastic surgery in the offseason.
Taylor was subsequently suspended two games and played sparingly against Kentucky before making an impact with 2 sacks and a forced fumble in the 24-10 win over Southern Miss.
“I’m perfectly happy for DT, I was jumping up excited for him, yelling for him,” Smith said. “Tempers flare in football, it just happens.
“I’m proud of him, that’s my brother, I love him to death.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who beat Alabama and Ohio State on the recruiting trail for Smith’s services, said the 6-foot-6, 320-pound freshman has snaps at left tackle in his future.
“That’s something that affords us a luxury that we’ve not really had in terms of depth,” Jones said of Smith’s ability to slide outside. “If Trey continues to progress and grow and develop at left tackle, that adds for a lot of different combinations that we need.”
Vols offensive coordinator Larry Scott, a former offensive lineman himself, agreed.
“I thought he did a really good job moving out there and sometimes put on an island for pass protection,” Scott said. “He showed what we had hoped for, the versatility to be able to swing guys around out there.
“There’s a certain level of consistency.”
Smith reiterated that it’s all about attitude.
“We all feed off each other, [and] if we see someone make a great block or put someone in the dirt, it will get everyone hyped,” Smith said. “We just want to be bullies in the SEC.
“We have a lot of savages, our mentality has changed a little bit. If we can get you to the point where we can finish you and put you on your back, we’re going to put you on your back, and that’s what I like, and that’s what I want to bring to the team.”
Tennessee football: The good
- Freshman cornerback Shawn Shamburger will return from a leg injury and should be a factor against Missouri’s fast-paced offense. Shamburger has shown great coverage skills and open-field tackling ability.
- Freshman quarterback Will McBride will get reps with the first team in practice even though Jarrett Guarantano is expected to return. McBride proved a capable backup and could be called upon if Guarantano is unable to move the ball at Missouri.
- Freshman offensive lineman Ryan Johnson said he likes getting coached hard by coach Walt Wells, explaining that every player should want a coach who knows how to get the most out of him.
Tennessee football: The bad
- Senior game-changer Evan Berry is done for the season, having only returned kicks in two games this season. Berry was also valuable as the third safety, a position the Vols are thin at with last year’s leading tackler, Todd Kelly Jr., out for the season with a knee injury.
- The Vols are catching Missouri at a bad time. The Tigers having won three straight games after starting 1-5. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said watching Missouri film is like watching “a different team” than the one that started the season slow.
- Freshman Ty Chandler did not get any carries with the quarterback under center against Southern Miss, which is clearly his forte as evidenced by his two TD runs against Kentucky. The Vols need to make Chandler more of a priority because of his rare game-breaking speed, especially if wide receiver Marquez Callaway is out.
Tennessee football: The unknowns
- Offensive tackles Brett Kendrick and Drew Richmond remain questionable for Saturday’s game. The Vols need one or both of them back to establish a much-needed run game at Missouri.
- Sophomore receiver Marquez Callaway is questionable for the Missouri game. Callaway is the Vols’ most dangerous receiver and an elite punt returner.
- Coaching rumors continue to swirl, as Jones’ job security remains unstable. John Currie told Jones and his staff that he would evaluate them based on how they finish the season and that appears to be playing out, though a change currently appears likely.