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Vols Looking for the Right Five on the O-line

offensive line-1-2“Work in progress” is one of Butch Jones’ favorite expressions when fielding questions from the media and that description fits the offensive line perhaps more aptly than any other unit on the team.

After going with a look that included (left to right) Jacob Gilliam, Marcus Jackson, Mack Crowder, Kyler Kerbyson and Coleman Thomas for much of summer and the beginning of fall camp, UT shook it up before the season started, bumping Kerbyson to right tackle and inserting Jashon Robertson at right guard.

Gilliam’s torn ACL forced Brett Kendrick into the starting lineup against Arkansas State and now, based on Tuesday’s practice, it looks like the Vols might go Kerbyson, Jackson, Crowder, Robertson and re-insert Thomas at right tackle. Again, it’s work in progress.

“We’ll have a battle,” Jones said of finding the right five on the offensive line. “We’re going to continue to mix it around. We’re going to look at Coleman Thomas a little bit more possibly at right tackle. You may see Kyler Kerbyson going to left tackle a little bit. Dontavius Blair – we’re going to ask him to play left tackle.

“You’ll see players moving around. It’s the first time that you’ll see mixed within the offensive front. Again, it’s finding the right five individuals that have a mindset, a mentality to protect the passer, run the football and finish blocks.”

Kerbyson, a redshirt junior, is somewhat of the linchpin of the group – the one that Jones can move to virtually any spot on the offensive line and hope to not miss a beat. After starting camp at right guard he made the transition to right tackle. Now there’s a strong chance he could be protecting the blind side at left tackle.

Jones isn’t concerned about his ability to flip positions or side to side on the offensive line, giving the Vols more flexibility up front.

“No, because we did this in spring football, and we also did it in training camp,” Jones said of moving Kerbyson around. “Really left tackle, right tackle, it’s really the same thing, just left and right. He’s been able to do that. I’m not saying that he will be our left tackle, but I’m saying he’ll gain repetitions there.”

“I’m ready to play anywhere, really,” added Kerbyson.“It’s been awhile, but it’s not that much change, it’s just plays going the opposite way. I love to do it. I like that the team can get on my shoulders and I can help them out. I take pride in that.”

And if Kerbyson does settle in at that left tackle spot, that likely means the return of Thomas at starting right tackle, a spot he manned all throughout spring practice, through the summer and even at the start of training camp. The true freshman was demoted to second team before the start of the season, but he’s stayed ready, and flipping Kerbyson over to the left side also serves as a vote of confidence for him.

“He has done a great job – he is a true freshman – I think that is the thing that gets lost in this, he is playing a position as a true freshman that is really a developmental position,” Jones said. “You develop your line over years in the weight room, the mental toughness, the physical toughness aspect of it. He is still a true freshman. He continues to develop.

“He is one of those individuals that I said will continue to grow and develop at their own pace. I see that pace starting to accelerate now a little bit and he is going to continue to get better and we are going to need him now. We are going to rely on him a lot.”

Thomas would be paired with Robertson, also a true freshman, who plays right guard. That’s two true freshmen working in tandem on the road against a top-5 team. Thomas has never even been on an airplane before, much less faced this type of challenge. Kerbyson isn’t concerned about them, however.

“I’ve played next to both of them now and I really like those guys,” he said. “They really want to learn, they want to be as good as they can. I think this upcoming week, we’ll see their maturity level.”

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