KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee offensive line coach Walt Wells has no less than five players snapping the football in every practice for a reason.
Tuesday was a reminder of that reason when coach Butch Jones announced senior center Coleman Thomas underwent emergency appendectomy surgery on Monday night and will be out between a week and two weeks.
“We’ll know a bit more in a couple of days, but he’s doing great,” Jones said after the fourth of 15 spring football practices.
Thomas is the third projected starter who will be missing from full-scale spring drills, as fifth-year senior Brett Kendrick and junior Chance Hall are also limited.
Tennessee is very deep and experienced on the offensive line, however, having had to play several players there last season on account of various injuries.
Kendrick, who played through torn ankle ligaments, was the only Vols’ offensive lineman to start every game in 2016.
Wells, a veteran line coach with more than 20 years of experience, said he remembers talking to Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett about Auburn’s nightmarish 1998 season.
The Tigers played in the 1997 SEC Championship Game against Tennessee, but in 1998, Coach Terry Bowden’s program was derailed by injuries at centers.
Auburn was on its fourth center by the time it played the eventual national champion Vols in the fourth game of the season — a 17-9 Tennessee win.
The Tigers ended up using six centers that season en route to a 3-8 record, and Wells said that ever since then he’s made sure he’s got at least five players that can snap the football.
“I told myself right there and then I’d make sure we’d have plenty of guys that could snap the ball,” Wells said in an interview with SECCountry.com prior to the start of spring drills. “We have some goals in place for this spring, and I understand the reality of it and what has been put in place.
“We’re going to have to earn everything we get.”