Tennessee coach Butch Jones went into this season viewing the offensive line because the deepest place group on the Vols’ roster.
They returned eight offensive linemen this yr who had earlier beginning expertise, together with 4 of their starters from the tip of final season, and boasted a complete of 14 scholarship gamers.
Now, getting into the ultimate month of the common season, they’re shortly working out of choices.
With fifth-year senior Brett Kendrick and sophomore Marcus Tatum each anticipated to sit down out Tennessee’s homecoming sport towards Southern Miss and redshirt sophomore sort out Drew Richmond additionally listed as questionable, the Vols might be left with as few as six wholesome, obtainable scholarship offensive linemen Saturday night time.
“We felt that was probably the most complete depth we had in our football program,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones mentioned Wednesday. “And you recognize what? It’s a kind of years the place (accidents have) significantly affected that place group.
“Again, just proud of the players for continuing to work their way through it, whether it’s in recovery and rehab at 7 a.m. in the morning or the next individual stepping up.”
Jones mentioned throughout his weekly Wednesday media availability that redshirt freshman Devante Brooks, who wasn’t within the staff’s two-deep depth chart to open the season, might be one among Tennessee’s high choices at offensive sort out this week, notably if Richmond isn’t obtainable to play.
Get VIP entry to GoVols247 with a FREE 7-DAY TRIAL
Brooks, a former tight finish who moved to the offensive line final yr whereas redshirting, labored at proper sort out in the course of the early portion of Tuesday’s apply that was open to media.
True freshman Trey Smith, who has began the Vols’ first eight video games this season at proper guard, and redshirt freshman Ryan Johnson additionally might give the Vols “some flexibility” and extra choices at sort out, Jones mentioned. Smith labored at left sort out throughout Tuesday’s apply.
“Devante Brooks can be a person who’s repped at offensive sort out all season lengthy and has gained priceless repetitions and has actually proven nice progress,” Jones mentioned. “Ryan Johnson provides us some flexibility at that place, as properly.
“Trey Smith gives us flexibility, whether it’s inside or outside.”
Brooks hasn’t appeared in a sport since his sophomore yr of highschool. He sat out his junior and senior seasons in highschool after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in back-to-back years.
And he has but to play in a sport as an offensive lineman. But Jones mentioned the previous three-star prospect from Washington, D.C., native is “a very cerebral player.”
“He’s very smart,” Jones mentioned of Brooks. “He retains information very quickly. He plays with very, very good pad level, so the valuable repetitions he’s gained, I think, will serve him in moving forward.”
(Want the newest scoop on Tennessee soccer and basketball? Make certain you are within the loop — take 5 seconds to join our FREE Vols e-newsletter now!)
Smith, who performed offensive sort out in highschool, labored at each sort out and guard throughout spring apply earlier than setting in at guard. Jones mentioned Smith additionally has gotten some work at sort out “through the course of the season.”
Tennessee misplaced junior offensive sort out Chance Hall and true freshman Okay’Rojhn Calbert to season-ending knee accidents close to the beginning of preseason apply, and Jones introduced final week that junior Jack Jones had determined to finish his enjoying profession due to “recurring neck and shoulder injuries.”
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Venzell Boulware introduced in early October that he had determined to switch, and redshirt freshman Nathan Niehaus additionally has been restricted by an damage this season.
With Kendrick and Tatum additionally out this week, and with Richmond’s standing in query, the Vols might be left with true freshman Riley Locklear as their solely scholarship offensive lineman obtainable off the bench towards Southern Miss.
Jones mentioned Wednesday that Locklear, who has been on observe for a redshirt this yr, can be obtainable to play Saturday if crucial.
“Been very encouraged by him and his overall growth and development, as well,” Jones mentioned of Locklear, a former three-star prospect from Huntington, W.Va. “And he’ll be ready to go for Saturday night.”
Tennessee has handled plenty of accidents over the previous few years, and Jones mentioned it has “obviously been a great challenge.” He mentioned a rash of accidents sometimes “runs in patterns,” however there hasn’t been any noticeable rhyme or motive for the Vols’ damage points.
This yr, they occur to be affecting Tennessee’s offensive line.
“It’s obviously been a great challenge, and I’ve been proud of our players,” Jones mentioned. “I feel the way in which they’ve responded, and it type of comes into subsequent man up, subsequent particular person in. We’ve had some gamers step up in these roles, and we will clearly want that for the remainder of the season. We’re going to wish that big-time Saturday night time in Neyland.
“But usually it runs in patterns. And, really, the last two years is, our thing, it hasn’t. It’s been all different kinds of injuries. The one thing, though: It’s hit a couple position groups this year, and obviously the offensive line has been one of them.”