Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano and Trey Smith talk the future of Volunteer football Mike Wilson/News Sentinel
(Photo: Calvin Mattheis, Knoxville News Sentinel)
This is Part I of a series examining the outlook for Tennessee at each position in advance of spring practice, which begins March 20. Today, we preview the offensive line.
Tennessee’s offense had a lot of warts in 2017.
You could argue offensive line was the biggest.
More: Why Tennessee Vols’ improvement under Jeremy Pruitt could begin with offensive line
Things started poorly when projected starter Chance Hall was lost for the season to a preseason knee injury. Injuries became a theme. Freshman Trey Smith was the only lineman to start every game. He became a bright spot in a rocky year for the line.
Drew Richmond, Trey Smith
Devante Brooks, K’Rojhn Calbert, Chance Hall, Ryan Johnson, Riley Locklear, Nathan Niehaus, Marcus Tatum
Tanner Antonutti, Jerome Carvin, Jahmir Johnson, Ollie Lane
Tennessee offensive lineman Drew Richmond (51) is one of two returning starters on the line.
Smith is a bona fide star and a future early round NFL draft pick. He was a second-team All-SEC selection and a Freshman All-America honoree.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is the Vols have no other proven commodities.
Hall made 13 starts in 2015-16, but will he return from injury, and if so, in what form? Richmond struggled in his seven starts at left tackle. Tatum, Brooks and others remain largely unproven. Johnson provided some needed stability after some linemen went down with injury, and he’s a good bet to grab a starting spot on the interior.
Depth remains a concern, but coach Jeremy Pruitt did well to corral four linemen in this signing class.
On a team full of question marks, offensive line is perhaps the biggest after Tennessee ranked 13th in the SEC in rushing offense in 2017 and surrendered a whopping 2.9 sacks per game.
Smith makes tackle his permanent home after starting nine games at guard and three at left tackle last season.
One to watch
Pruitt scored a big win on the first day of the December signing period when he snagged Carvin, a four-star lineman from Cordova who was coveted by Mississippi State and Florida. A 6-foot-4, 330-pound early enrollee, Carvin seems like a freshman who could skip the redshirt and make an impact in 2018.
Do they have someone to snap the ball?
Jashon Robertson and Coleman Thomas combined for 11 of the 12 starts at center last year. They’re gone. Johnson had the other start. But what happens if Johnson gets hurt? The Vols seem dangerously thin on depth at center.
UT VOLS FOOTBALL OFFSEASON 2017-18