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Vols Continue to Shuffle Positions Looking for Best Fits

Team Pic-1-5It’s somewhat indicative of the depth of the offensive line in Tennessee’s program right now that somebody like true freshman Jashon Robertson, who didn’t even begin fall camp on the offensive side of the ball, can get first-team reps at right guard with the season just over two weeks away.

But it also says something about Robertson – who became the fifth newcomer to lose his helmet stripe – that he’s taking advantage of this opportunity.

“Well, when we recruited him, we knew he brought value to both sides of the football,” said coach Butch Jones. ”But he’s extremely smart, he’s very intelligent, he’s very instinctive and he plays with a good pad level.

“He was a good wrestler, so that has really helped him from understanding the leverage side of things. But, he’s very bright and he loves football. He’s done a tremendous job, and he continues to push the older guys that we do have in the offensive line.”

The offensive line has been a true work in progress, especially over the past week. Check out our offensive practice notes for more details, but there have been a lot of moving pieces. Mack Crowder, Dylan Wiesman and Jacob Gilliam have all missed some time due to being banged up in camp. Freshman Coleman Thomas, who looked to be entrenched at the right tackle spot, has been working a little more with the second unit. Kyler Kerbyson has worked as a starter at both guard and tackle.

Jones is paying for the sins of his predecessor after Derek Dooley opted to skip the offensive line position in the 2012 recruiting class – denying this team the chance to have a few additional upperclassmen at that position on the roster.

“We need as much flexibility as possible, and it’s finding the best five that will work together, communicate as one, have one heartbeat, be one mindset,” Jones said. “You have to think all alike, and the offensive line is very, very indicative of ‘one wrong, all wrong.’ It’s having five that can continually put together and feed off of each other.

“So, it’s allowed us to move some players around in trying to evaluate and find out the best five to put on the field. But it’s not just the five. I’ve said it – it’s six, it’s seven, it’s eight. We travel with ten to 11 offensive linemen. That’s where we’re really down. We’re suffering some consequences in terms of recruiting right now. We’re down about five offensive linemen in our numbers of running a football program. So, again, every rep that they take is critical, but we need to continue to recruit at that position.”

More position shuffling: Outside of the offensive line, a couple other players on the roster have been working with new position groups. Jakob Johnson, who started at middle linebacker in the spring and then moved to defensive end, is now working as an outside linebacker.

“We have to find the best fit, the best position for Jakob Johnson,” said Jones. “And he does bring value, because he can do some very good things, but one of the strengths that Jakob has is his ability to run – run and hit. So we’re going to move him around a little bit to an outside linebacker position – try to get him standing up more, and let him use his speed and athleticism to run sideline to sideline.”

Neiko Creamer, recruited as an athlete out of high school, has worked with the linebackers since arriving in the spring. He worked with the tight ends on Friday for the first time.

“Yeah, we’re trying to find, again, the best spot for Neiko,” said Jones. “So, today we tried him at tight end, and we’ll continue to see what he can do at the tight end position. Again, it’s just moving him around. He may be at a number of different positions. He’s fit. He’s a big body. Now, we’re just trying to find the right fit for him.”

Other notes:

• Jones gave his first official update on Curt Maggitt, who hasn’t been practicing this week. He said Maggitt, who has been seen in a walking boot at practice, “rolled” his ankle recently. He will try to practice Saturday morning, but will be held out of the open practice Saturday night and then will be evaluated from there.

• Jones said running back Derrell Scott and offensive lineman Dylan Wiesman were both back working at practice Friday after both had missed some time with injury. “He did some very, very good things today,” Jones said of Scott.

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