Tennessee is two weeks and 12 practices into fall camp as one of its most important position battles rages on. Neither senior Jeremiah Crawford nor redshirt sophomore Gerald Mincey have gained consequential ground in the competition to be the Vols’ starting left tackle.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for second year head coach Josh Heupel who continued to emphasize the need for both players to be ready following Tennessee’s second fall scrimmage Sunday morning.
“It’s been back and forth a little bit through training camp,” Heupel said following Tennessee’s second fall scrimmage Sunday. You guys have heard me say this. At the end of the day, we’re going to need both of them, all of them. You experienced last year, injuries. That’s true at the tackle spot. It’s true at all five spots. Those guys are continuing to compete. That’s not going to stop after today. That’ll happen all the way up until kickoff.”
Mincey transferred to Tennessee earlier this offseason after not playing in two seasons at Florida while Crawford played sparingly in 2021 after transferring from junior college ahead of the season. Crawford’s role increased towards the end of the season as he began to earn praise from coaches.
Their competition is the one spot in limbo on Tennessee’s offensive line. The Vols return the four other starters from last season’s team with Darnell Wright sliding from left tackle to right tackle.
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Don’t expect a quick resolution to the tackle battle either. Heupel appears content to let the battle continue into the season if neither gain real separation.
“Anticipate both of them playing during the course of the football game throughout the season, and certainly in week one,” Heupel said. “Who gets a majority of that or what the percentage breakdown is, we’ll continue to evaluate as we go through.”
One real sign of, at least, moderate confidence from Heupel towards the left tackles was his revelation that the Vols plan to keep Wright at right tackle entering the season. If Tennessee had to move Wright back to left tackle before the season opener it would reflect poorly on what Heupel and his staff felt they had from Mincey and Crawford.
While neither Crawford nor Mincey have an abundance of SEC experience both have gone through the full offseason in the midst of competition.
“Both of them have made a bunch of progress from spring ball, and really since the beginning of training camp, in understanding what we’re doing offensively,” Heupel said. “In the run game, playing with better pad level, being able to create some movement up front. Both of them have taken major strides in the pass pro side of it, too. I feel like those guys are continuing to progress as they should.”
Tennessee marches closer-and-closer to its Sept. 1 season opener against Ball State. The Vols return to the practice field Tuesday morning for their final eight days before classes begin.