Tennessee football 2017 spring preview: Veteran offensive line leads way
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Departing Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs made a lot of wrongs right for the Vols’ offensive line the past three seasons, sidestepping would be sacks and escaping pressure.
That’s a trend expected to reverse itself under new offensive coordinator Larry Scott and first-year offensive line coach Walt Wells starting with the opening of spring drills next Tuesday.
New strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullikson’s influence in the offseason conditioning and training will be most reflected up front.
Tennessee football OL Overview
With a yet-to-be-determined new quarterback under center and last year’s leading rusher and receiver moved on, Tennessee’s experienced line is expected to be the strength of the offense.
It was a beat-up and maligned group last season, with rising fifth-year senior Brett Kendrick the only offensive lineman to start every game.
At that, Kendrick played games with torn ankle ligaments that required surgery after the season and will keep him sidelined in spring drills.
Tennessee football OL by the numbers
Even with the elusive Dobbs, the Vols were only 52nd in the nation in sacks allowed, giving up 1.92 per game.
The Tennessee run game was a respectable 37th in the nation (205.2 per game), and over the last four games the Vols scored 15 rushing touchdowns and averaged 292 yards on the ground.
The offense set a single-season record for points and touchdowns, averaging 50 points per game in the month of November.
Tennessee football OL going forward
The Vols have a popular new assistant coach in charge of the offensive line in Wells, a recruiting dynamo from the middle Tennessee region who Coach Butch Jones places great trust in.
Wells helped redshirt freshman Drew Richmond (6-5, 301) begin to live up to his potential last season, and now he’s gotten incoming 5-star Trey Smith (6-6, 313) off to a good start.
Scott, an offensive lineman at South Florida during his playing career, will continue to work with the tight ends as well as offensive tackles.
Tennessee football standout performer
Rising senior guard Jashon Robertson could be the next NFL offensive lineman UT produces if he grows even more physical this offseason and learns to finish blocks.
Robertson should be a preseason All-SEC pick, while Richmond and Smith bear watching in spring drills as either or both could blossom into SEC household names.
RELATED: Defensive line preview
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Tennessee football OL projected depth chart
(injured players in italics)
LT Drew Richmond (6-5, 301, RS So.)
Trey Smith (6-6, 313, Tr. Fr.)
(Chance Hill limited spring, 6-4, 318, Jr.)
LG Jashon Robertson (6-3, 305, Sr.)
Ryan Johnson (6-6, 275, RS Fr.)
C Coleman Thomas (6-5, 301, Sr.)
Devante Brooks (6-5, 255, RS Fr.)
RG Jack Jones (6-4, 307, Jr.)
Venzell Boulware (6-3, 306, RS So.)
RT Marcus Tatum (6-6, 265, So.)
Nathan Niehaus (6-6, 295, So.)
(Brett Kendrick out spring, ankle, 6-6, 318, RS Sr.)
Competing to play:
OG Tommy Sprague (6-3, 295 So. walk-on)
OC-C Brian Garvey (6-4, 295, So. walk-on)
OG-C Riley Locklear (6-5, 295, True Fr.)
OT Joe Keeler (6-6, 295 RS Soph)
OG Austin Sanders (6-5, 310 RS Sr.)