KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee coach Butch Jones calls it consistency. Offensive lineman Brett Kendrick calls it confidence. Whichever the case, Kendrick has been a frequent topic of conversation during spring practice.
It’s easy to remember the 2015 Tennessee offensive line as historic. The Vols rushed for 2,908 yards last season, second most in school history. Yet it wasn’t easy to get there. The Vols had to consistently overcome injuries up front and rely on inexperienced players — or even freshmen — to shoulder the load.
Last season, the Vols lost Marcus Jackson and Austin Sanders to season-ending torn biceps injuries during the preseason. Jashon Robertson and Mack Crowder also missed significant time with leg injuries.
Kendrick even missed significant time with an arm injury last season. Now, he’s healthy and ready to assume the role held by former Tennessee left tackle Kyler Kerbyson, who started every game as a senior last year.
“I feel like since Kyler left us, it’s just my turn to step up and be a leader, me and (senior offensive lineman) Dylan (Wiesman),” Kendrick said. “We’re the oldest two. We’ve been around the longest. We’ve put the weight on our shoulders. If we have a bad day, it’s on us. We lead the O-line as best we can.”
Kendrick didn’t assume his leadership role when the Vols began spring practice. He’s been working on it for quite some time, ever since the end of last season. He believes there are times to lead by example and times to speak out.
“If you’re not putting in the work on the field, if you’re not putting in the work in the weight room, they’re not going to follow you,” Kendrick said. “But when we get out here (in practice), we have to be vocal. If we see somebody down, we have to pick them up.”
Kendrick has leaned on another former Vols offensive lineman to help improve his game. Ja’Wuan James, who now plays for the Miami Dolphins is just a text, call or Facetime away. Kendrick has used all three modes of communication to seek guidance from James. There’s often a practice video attached to a Kendrick post for James to critique.
“He’s always got good feedback for me,” Kendrick said, “whether I like it or not.”
Kendrick, who is now a redshirt junior, said he’s more confident this year than ever before because he’s more prepared. More film study has made the difference.
“It just slows everything down so as stuff starts to slow down, you can be more calm and collected out there,” Kendrick said.
Being calm and collected seems as if it would be challenging for Kendrick this spring. Tennessee’s coaches have asked him to play center, guard and tackle. Center seems to be his favorite.
“It’s fun. I like to have the ball in my hands. It makes me feel special,” Kendrick joked. “It’s a good time. I like playing center a lot. It’s just something new, something for me to try out. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Jones has noticed a different Kendrick during spring drills.
“I think just a high level of consistency,” Jones said. “Brett brings so much value because, not only can he play tackle, we’re also playing him a little bit at guard as well. As we learn from the last couple of years, you need as many players as you can that can play multiple positions.”
It really doesn’t matter which position Kendrick plays — just as long as he’s ready to do so this fall.