KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s starting offensive line is set.
It just took a preseason injury to make it official.
With Chance Hall sidelined four to six weeks with a knee injury, Brett Kendrick will assume the starting tackle job. Former 5-star recruit Drew Richmond, a redshirt freshman, will open at left tackle.
The issue is Tennessee’s depth behind Richmond and Kendrick.
The Volunteers starting junior center Coleman Thomas now is the team’s third tackle, per offensive coordinator Mike DeBord on Friday.
Thomas, an All-SEC center in 2015, started five games at right tackle as a freshman.
“We’ll work Coleman Thomas a little a bit at tackle, which he’s done in camp already in individual drills, pass protection and individual blocking,” DeBord explained.
With coach Butch Jones continuing to search for “seven or eight individuals,” DeBord acknowledged Tennessee could be forced to rely on some freshmen early in the season.
“Obviously we’ve got our freshman that we’re working there, so those guys right now would be the No. 4 and No. 5 guys,” said DeBord, referring to Marcus Tatum and Nathan Niehaus.
Tatum rapidly has exceeded expectations, but he came in undersized at just 265 pounds, so ideally, he’d be a natural redshirt candidate.
That may not happen, though.
“I love the way he competes everyday,” DeBord said.
“I love it. Like yesterday at practice, he just said, ‘You know, I don’t understand that.’ He wants to learn, and he wants to master things. I just love his attitude, and I love his ability.”
Still, DeBord acknowledged Tatum has a lot of work to do in the weight room, chuckling when SEC Country asked what the freshman’s ideal weight would be.
“The more the better,” DeBord said, smiling.
“You know, we’re continuing to try to bulk him up and put it on him the right way. He’s eating 24 hours a day. We’re just continuing to build him up as (fast) as he can do it.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com