KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It’s hard to imagine that Tennessee had to replace all five starters on its offensive line just two seasons ago. Now, with depth across the offensive front, the Vols have come a long, long way.
Even without two potential starters, Tennessee’s offensive line rolled through spring practice with a competency hard to imagine two years ago. Sure, Tennessee’s coaches look forward to the return of guard Jashon Robertson and tackle Chance Hall, but the Vols can make due even if they suffer some injuries this fall. Robertson and Hall were ruled out before spring began. They’re set to return this fall. If they want to nail down a starting position, they had better be ready to compete.
“It’s a great situation to be in,” Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. “The guys are aware that at all spots — from the tackle spot to the guards to even center — guys are going to have a great summer because of the the level of competition at those spots. That’s a situation we’ve been trying to build since we got here. We feel like we’re getting to that point where we’re building the depth we need to play as physical and play the style of play we want to.”
If the Vols do suffer injuries on the offensive line, as they did last year, depth won’t be their only ally. The Vols also can also rely on the flexibility they have among some of their veteran players. Mahoney said the Vols have three or four linemen who can play multiple positions.
One of those players is rising junior Brett Kendrick, who started five games at right tackle last season before being sidelined with elbow and knee injuries. Kendrick has played right tackle, right guard and center during spring practice. Mahoney isn’t sure what Kendrick’s best position is.
“He can play them all,” Mahoney said. “He can play tackle. He can play guard. We’d like to get some more work with him at center. He is mentally sharp, smart and we can count on him at any position.”
Kendrick isn’t just versatile. He’s also proven to be a leader.
“He’s really had a solid spring,” Mahoney said. “He’s really a guy that has been a guy that we’ve really been using an example for the style of play, the fundamentals, the technique and the leverage we’re looking for. He’s just grown up.”
Kendrick isn’t the only offensive lineman to show off his leadership skills during spring practice.
Mahoney said rising senior Dylan Wiesman has also led some of Tennessee’s younger offensive linemen. Rising junior Coleman Thomas has also done the same at center after a slow start to spring practice.
“He’s finishing spring ball really on a high note and really taking control of the line with the calls, being in charge,” Mahoney said of Thomas. “Obviously the guys follow him with the way he commands it and that’s important at that position, just the experience he has, the way he carries himself. The guys follow suit with every command that he gives from the fronts to the adjustments we need to make, he has been the guy that’s been a solid force for us.”
Mahoney certainly has a rough idea of what his starting five will look like this fall. However, with all the competition up front, don’t expect any guarantees.