KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Who wants to earn a role?
Ten days into training camp, Tennessee still has a number of offensive position battles to sort out, so coordinator Mike DeBord emphasized the importance of its first preseason scrimmage on Saturday.
“I think every player out there understands the sense of urgency,” the Vols second-year coordinator said.
“We’re trying to create depth. We’re also trying to create a starting lineup. I think every guy understands that.”
While players like quarterback Josh Dobbs, tailbacks Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara and wideout Josh Malone all have cemented roles, Tennessee continues to search for starers at left and right tackle, as well as a rotation of receivers and a backup quarterback.
“The scrimmage this Saturday will be big for all positions,” DeBord said.
“We’re going to have to really take a hard look at what we’re doing on offense, as far as who we want to look at. This Saturday will be big for all that.”
Offensive line remains a principle priority, as Tennessee aims to find a solid five-man unit to build continuity moving forward.
Debord has been impressed with the unit’s overall growth in camp, believing it has “taken a step forward.”
“We’re not where we need to be, but I do see real progress,” he said.
The Vols return four starters from their 2015 offensive line, but coaches have stressed an open competition at left and right tackle, with redshirt freshman Drew Richmond, junior Chance Hall and junior Brett Kendrick essentially competing for two spots. But even if Richmond, who has taken the majority of reps at left tackle during the media viewing periods, or Hall separate themselves in the competition, DeBord said the battle won’t end over the next week.
“After we get through these next couple of days we will, as coaches, reevaluate where we are,” DeBord said.
“Every practice we talk about each guy. We talk about where they are, what they need to improve upon. Who is the five toughest right now? Who is the five best technicians? Where are we? It’s not like all of a sudden after Saturday we’re going to come up and go, ‘Well, these are the five.’ Every day we talk about it, and that’s just part of evaluating your team.”
Part of the constant evaluation includes determining who will back up Dobbs, and the scrimmage Saturday will be another test for freshman Jarrett Guarantano and sophomore Quinten Dormady.
The two underclassman signal callers are in a heated battle for the reserve role, with both players showcasing their strengths at various times in camp. Debord didn’t tip his hand as to who has the edge in the competition, but he did say both quarterbacks will see plenty of reps on Saturday.
“We do a better job here developing the No. 2 and No. 3 guys because (of) all the reps they do get,” DeBord said, comparing Tennessee to his past stops.
“Here in this program it allows guys to develop and get more experience.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com