When the Vols’ first-team offense takes the field Saturday for the Orange and White Game in Neyland Stadium, expect redshirt sophomore and Knoxville native Brett Kendrick to man the right tackle spot with confidence.
Even he would admit that he wasn’t sure that would be case at some points during the 2014 season.
“I lost my confidence sometimes last year at times, whether it was getting beat on a play or in practice, but I feel very, very confident right now in what I’m doing,” Kendrick said. “I just feel like I’ve put the work in the weight room. Coach [Dave] Lawson did a great job and Kyler Kerbyson is always on me.”
Getting first-team work in the spring doesn’t guarantee anything in the fall. Position battles will rage on throughout the summer and into camp and newcomers can always shake up the depth chart as well. But Kendrick is making a strong push to lock that spot up thanks to strong work since the end of 2014.
“I have never seen anybody grow as much as Brett has this offseason,” said Kerbyson. “Last season working with him he was behind me at left. He got a few playing reps in games. His step up on the field is ridiculous. It really does astound me how different he is, how good his set is now, how good his hands are and how good his footwork is. It just shows that he works hard and he wants it.”
Kendrick had somewhat of a roller-coaster experience in 2014. Just a redshirt freshman at the time, he got his first career start in Week 2 against Arkansas State at left tackle after Jacob Gilliam went down with a torn ACL in the opener against Utah State. Kendrick lost his starting role after that, but bounced back for some more opportunities later in the season.
“After that Arkansas State game, I realized I wasn’t where I needed to be at all, so I guess that was maybe rock bottom,” he said. “But then turned it around, got to play some at Ole Miss, then got to start and play all of Alabama, that’s where I really started to build my confidence back.”
That experience taught him resiliency. It also helped him learn to deal with some hard coaching on the practice field as he’s been one of the players that the coaches get after the most in practice settings.
“They do, and that’s been a big thing, not only mentally, but physically too,” he said. “That’s always been a knock. I’ve just been coming out everyday – and you have to tune out some stuff the coaches say. So I’ve been trying to build on mental toughness and physical.”
It seems to be paying off. Sophomore Coleman Thomas got the first crack at right tackle this spring, but after a legal matter sidelined him, Kendrick stepped up as the starting right tackle and has been consistent all spring. Since Thomas returned after charges against him were dropped, he’s been playing primarily at center.
Thomas certainly could still get some looks at that right tackle spot to compete with Kendrick, but it can also be considered a compliment to Kendrick that coaches feel good about him holding down that spot right now.
“I think so, but I think also they’re trying to see where Coleman can play this year,” he said. “But I think that is them saying that they have confidence in me, which builds my confidence.”