We get you ready for the start of spring practice for Tennessee’s football team with our position preview series. Our most recent piece looked at Tennessee’s defensive line. Up next is a look at the Vols’ offensive line.
Seniors: Trey Smith, Brandon Kennedy (RS), Riley Locklear, Jahmir Johnson (RS)
Juniors: K’Rojhn Calbert (RS), Jerome Carvin, Cade Mays
Sophomores: Wanya Morris (out), Darnell Wright, Ollie Lane (RS), Jarious Abercrombie (RS), Kingston Harris (RS)
Freshmen: Jackson Lampley (RS), Chris Akporoghene (RS), Cooper Mays
Jeremy Pruitt, Will Friend, and Jim Chaney have done a terrific job of overhauling the talent along Tennessee’s offensive line. In year one under Pruitt, the O-line was one of the worst in the country. This past season, the offensive line improved mightily throughout the course of the season to help guide Tennessee to an eight-win season.
There was still a lot to be desired with the Vols O-line despite seeing improvement, though. Tennessee finished the 2019 season with the 113th-best offensive line in the country according to Pro Football Focus. Per PFF, the Vols finished with the nation’s 124th pass-blocking grade and 76th run-blocking grade.
Though Tennessee struggled in pass-blocking situations, the line was better at limiting negative plays. After allowing 92 tackles for a loss in 2018, the Vols allowed 23 fewer TFLs in 2019 while playing one more game.
Having already taken a step forward over the last 12 months, Tennessee should make even more progress in year three under Friend and year two under Chaney. The Vols return all five of their starting offensive linemen from a season ago, as well as 12 members from last year’s O-line group.
The most important offensive lineman returning in 2020 is senior left guard Trey Smith. The Jackson, Tennessee native announced his intentions to forgo the NFL Draft and remain in school shortly after the 2019 season concluded. Smith had as good of a season as any O-linemen in college football last season. As a result of his play, he was named to the All-SEC First Team.
Smith was paired next to Brandon Kennedy all season long. With Smith at left guard and Kennedy at center, the Vols benefited from having the same left guard/center combination all season long. The pair played in all 13 games, and after Kennedy received a waiver for a sixth-year, the duo returns for another campaign together.
The interior of Tennessee’s O-line doesn’t end with Kennedy and Smith, however. As good of a duo as those two are, the Vols will potentially have an even greater trio should Georgia transfer Cade Mays be ruled immediately eligible.
If Mays is able to play after transferring from Georgia over winter break, Tennessee should have one the best offensive lines in the SEC for the upcoming season, especially along the interior.
Mays appears to be slated to play at right guard for the Vols, though he could prove to be a Swiss Army Knife of sorts. At Georgia, Mays played 108 snaps at left tackle, 59 snaps at left guard, 46 snaps at center, 336 snaps at right guard, 64 snaps as a right tackle, and 27 snaps as an extra tackle in jumbo formations. Mays played all 72 of his snaps in Georgia’s Sugar Bowl appearance at left tackle.
With Smith, Kennedy, and Mays forming as good of a trio on the interior of an offensive line as you’ll find, the Vols have equal talent out on the edge. Wanya Morris will miss all of spring practice after having surgery on his hip, but he’ll likely be Tennessee’s starting left tackle in 2020.
The right tackle spot is more of a question mark. It appears to be Darnell Wright’s job to lose, but this spring will be critical for Wright. who missed the Kentucky and UAB game due to an ankle injury. The injury affected his play down the stretch, but the West Virginia native still managed to earn All-SEC Freshman honors.
K’Rojhn Calbert will push Wright the most for the right tackle spot. Calbert took the starting job away from Wright while the freshman was dealing with his ankle injury. Now the two are poised for a healthy position battle over the next two months.
With Morris out for the spring due to injury, the door is open for redshirt senior Jahmir Johnson to emerge from the doghouse and potentially earn the starting left tackle spot exiting spring practice. On top of being in the doghouse, Johnson also battled injury throughout last season. Now that Morris is out, Johnson could really push for significant playing time. Johnson could even see action at left guard.
Jerome Carvin and Riley Locklear are two names to watch as the Vols look to build depth this spring. The two will likely battle it out for the No. 2 spot behind Mays at right guard, but should the versatile Mays start at a different position, the battle between Carvin and Locklear could morph into a battle to be the starting right guard.
Carvin will also fight for the backup center position, as will Locklear. Early enrollee Cooper Mays could end up factoring into the race to be the backup center should he have a solid spring, but the four-star center appears poised for a redshirt.
This spring will be big for players such as Chris Akporoghene, Kingston Harris, Jackson Lampley and Jarious Abercrombie. None have been able to crack the rotation as underclassmen. With an extra year under their belt, they’ll now push to be in the two-deep at the guard position, especially Akporoghene. Harris has practiced as both an offensive and defensive lineman, and it’ll be interesting to see where he starts out at spring.
The Vols will also welcome in two more interior linemen after spring practices in Javontez Spraggins and James Robinson as the rest of UT’s 2020 class arrives on campus.