Right now, it’s uncertain whether or not the 2020 football season will be played as planned. But we’re moving ahead and providing our position preview series ahead of the start of Tennessee’s fall camp as if things will proceed as normal. After taking a look at the defensive line, we take a look at the Vols’ offensive line.
Seniors: Jahmir Johnson (RS), Brandon Kennedy (RS), Riley Locklear, Trey Smith
Juniors: K’Rojhn Calbert (RS), Jerome Carvin, Cade Mays
Sophomores: Ollie Lane (RS), Wanya Morris, Darnell Wright
Freshmen: Chris Akporoghene (RS), Jackson Lampley (RS), Cooper Mays, James Robinson, Javontez Spraggins
Strength in the Interior
Tennessee’s offensive line returns all of their starters and most of their main contributors from last season heading into the 2020 season. But by far the strength of UT’s offensive line appears to be in the interior.
All-American candidate Trey Smith elected to return for his senior season after earning First Team All-SEC honors as a junior at left guard after overcoming the blood clots in his lungs from the last two years. Starting center Brandon Kennedy was granted a sixth year of eligibility due to his medical hardships throughout his playing career, and the Vols welcomed in former five-star and Georgia transfer Cade Mays, who will likely start at right guard should he be deemed eligible for the season (more on that in a minute).
With those three, Tennessee returns 63 combined career starts and a bevy of talent. Both Smith and Mays were five-stars coming out of high school, and Kennedy was a highly-rated four-star prospect.
That’s not to say that Tennessee’s tackles are a weak spot, though; the Vols boast plenty of upside and talent there, too.
Wanya Morris turned in a stellar freshman campaign last season, earning Freshman All-American honors from 247Sports and making the Freshman All-SEC Team after starting 12 of 13 games at left tackle. Fellow five-star freshman Darnell Wright manned the right tackle spot for most of the season, but K’Rojhn Calbert came on strong to end the season and started two of UT’s final three games of the year.
The Vols have six players who could be legitimate starters along the offensive line at most SEC programs, and the interior could pave the way for a superb rushing attack this season. Barring injuries, those six figure to be the main rotation for the offensive line this fall.
What if Cade Mays isn’t Eligible?
All of that, of course, is dependent on Georgia transfer Cade Mays being granted immediate eligibility for the 2020 season. What if Mays is denied and has to sit out the year?
Should Mays not be available, the Vols still have options to start at one of the two guard spots. Both Calbert and Wright saw time at guard last season, and junior Jerome Carvin has starting experience at guard in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Ideally, coaches would like to try and give Carvin a redshirt year that he missed out on early in his career due to lack of bodies along the offensive line, but Carvin is more than capable of playing and starting.
Tennessee should be okay if Mays is ineligible, but it would obviously be a much bigger benefit to the team if Mays is able to play this season.
The Odd Men Out?
The Vols seem to have their starting five more or less figured out, and there are a few players who definitely seem in line to provide backup if needed. But not everyone has a clear-cut role along the line right now.
What about redshirt senior Jahmir Johnson? Or senior Riley Locklear? Both players are on the smaller side compared to the rest of UT’s offensive linemen, and both seem to have been passed over by more talented youngsters. Johnson came in as a highly-regarded JUCO prospect in 2018 and was an immediate starter, but injury and lack of consistency held him to just one start and six appearances last season. Locklear started two games last year and played in 11 games, appearing at guard and center both.
If both players don’t win a spot on the two-deep, look for their names to potentially appear in the transfer portal.
Ollie Lane is another name to keep an eye on. The third-year sophomore appeared in three games last season for the Vols, but he’s yet to make much of an impact as a Vol. Lane is in a weird in-between spot where he’s no longer a youngster, but he doesn’t have the experience that most of UT’s other three-year players do. He’s also in danger of being passed up even more by some of the Vols’ younger linemen.
Competition won’t be a problem for Tennessee’s offensive line this fall, and it could lead to some natural attrition.
Preparing the Younger Linemen
Not only do the Vols appear to have a solid group of six players who could start on the line, but Tennessee also has several key pieces to provide depth. For the first time in a while, UT finally seems to have a strong group of veterans and fairly experienced younger players sprinkled throughout the offensive line.
But what about the youngest players on Tennessee’s roster?
Unless the Vols’ offensive line is just decimated by injuries this season, Tennessee shouldn’t have to call on any of their incoming freshmen or several of their younger players.
Just because those younger players may not see the field doesn’t mean this fall isn’t important for them, though.
Players like incoming freshmen Cooper Mays, Javontez Spraggins, and James Robinson have plenty of talented upperclassmen to learn from and get better against in practice, and redshirt freshmen Jackson Lampley and Chris Akporoghene can use this fall as another year of learning and getting stronger, preparing for when UT’s upperclassmen move on from the program.
Tennessee’s freshmen shouldn’t be asked to see the field much outside of appearing in four games before taking a redshirt, but this fall should still serve an important role for UT’s youngest linemen.