We get you ready for the start of spring practice for Tennessee’s football team with our position preview series. Up next is a look at the Vols’ offensive line.
Seniors: Cade Mays, Jerome Carvin, Riley Locklear (RS), K’Rojhn Calbert (RS)
Juniors: Darnell Wright, Ollie Lane (RS)
Sophomores: Cooper Mays, Javontez Spraggins, James Robinson, Chris Akporoghene (RS), Jackson Lampley (RS), Kingston Harris (RS)
Freshmen: William Parker (early enrollee)
Departures: Trey Smith (graduation), Brandon Kennedy (graduation), Wanya Morris (transfer portal), Jahmir Johnson (transfer portal)
A new era
New Tennessee offensive line coach Glenn Elarbee will have his hands full this spring. Not only does Elarbee have to replace one of the best offensive lineman in Tennessee history, but he also has to replace the Vols’ starting center, the starting left tackle and the backup left tackle.
Trey Smith is without a doubt the biggest loss for the Vols along the o-line this offseason. Obviously Tennessee is losing a significant talent, but even more importantly, it’s losing its unquestioned leader up front. Brandon Kennedy is also a key loss in that regard. Kennedy served as the lynchpin of the unit and was a great communicator from his center position.
Elarbee will also have to replace two other departures following Wanya Morris’ decision to transfer to Oklahoma and Jahmir Johnson’s decision to depart for Texas A&M. That’s not only Tennessee’s starting left tackle playing football elsewhere, but also its backup left tackle. Establishing new leadership along the offensive line is critical this spring, along with Elarbee getting a feel for who he’ll be able to lean on this spring.
The likely replacements
Left tackle, left guard and center are the likely positions along the line up for grabs heading into the 2021 season. Right guard could also be up for grabs if Cade Mays plays a different position this fall. Mays started six games at right guard last season, but could potentially slide over to left tackle if needed. Regardless, Mays will be the anchor of Tennessee’s offensive line and he needs to spend this spring developing within that role.
Mays’ younger brother, Cooper, will also likely earn a starting job heading into the season. Cooper Mays started two games at center last season and is the favorite to replace Kennedy. Senior Jerome Carvin could also start at center, but he could also start at either guard position, which is the more likely scenario. Similar to Cade Mays, Carvin is all but guaranteed to be in the starting lineup, it’s just a matter of where.
Left tackle is the interesting spot to watch. Mays is capable of sliding over from right guard and so is junior Darnell Wright who has spent his first two seasons at Tennessee playing right tackle. With Mays likely sticking at guard and Wright likely sticking at right tackle, a name that will get a look at left tackle is senior K’Rojhn Calbert. The rising senior did not make any starts last season, but made five starts at right tackle back in 2019.
Another name to watch at guard along with Carvin is senior Riley Locklear, who has played in 24 games and made four starts during his career, playing mostly at guard. Locklear was thought of by the previous staff as a potential starter last season, or the ‘sixth-man’ along the o-line,’ before injuries slowed his season down. He saw action in the first three games of the season in UT’s jumbo package before electing to receive season-ending surgery on Oct. 23.
Who can take the next step?
While the names just mentioned are the likely frontrunners to start along a revamped offensive line under Elarbee, there are younger prospects waiting in the wings. Javontez Spraggins and James Robinson are sophomores along with Cooper Mays who were thought of in high-regard as true freshmen last season.
Spraggins particularly impressed the former coaching staff from the moment he stepped foot on campus last summer. He’ll likely be able to do the same with the new coaches and should be in prime position to earn a starting spot at guard as he competes with the likes of Carvin and Locklear this spring. Spraggins played in eight games and made one start (tight end in jumbo package) as a true freshman. He played on 89 offensive snaps, mostly at right guard, and did not allowed a sack.
Tennessee has one newcomer along the offensive line this spring in Nashville native William Parker, who chose the Vols over Alabama and then signed during the early signing period. The early enrollee has the potential to earn early playing time as his body is already prepared to compete as a true freshman. If Parker can come in and grasp the playbook, he could play early at the guard position, similar to how Spraggins did last season.