Offensive line depth paying dividends for Tennessee
The offensive line is the deepest unit for Tennessee in 2017, but it’s a little less deep with the loss of junior tackle Chance Hall for the season.
Butch Jones addressed Hall’s knee injury following the Vols’ first fall training camp practice in full pads.
“He’s going to have surgery, and he’ll have a redshirt year,” Jones said, “and he’ll come back and be stronger than ever for it.”
Hall has made 13 starts at right tackle, debuting in the closest Alabama game under Jones, in 2015, in which Tennessee came up short 19-14.
Hall’s injury isn’t disastrous because the next man up — whoever he might be — can be relied on.
Jones isn’t overly concerned that three other offensive linemen missed time on the first day in full pads.
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Redshirt senior Brett Kendrick, sophomore Marcus Tatum and freshman Trey Smith all sat out, mostly as a precaution. Jones said their absences were “nothing significant” and that “they’ll all be back … we need to get them back.” He added that an upcoming scrimmage might be put off if other lineman aren’t healthy.
The situation has allowed individuals such as senior Jashon Robertson to continue playing at different positions. Robertson has played the majority of his 35 starts in his three seasons at Tennessee at guard, but spent time at center this spring.
In fall camp, Robertson is continuing to show his versatility.
“So far, I’ve played guard and center, and already some guys have moved around at different spots,” he said. “We would like to have a sense of versatility, but at the same time we do have to develop some continuity.
“That will come when we figure out who the best five are and we have that group together, then we can build that continuity.”
First-year offensive line coach Walt Wells said his unit is in a position of “plug and play right now.
“There are some guys that will start off the day at practice where they’re at and then we just kind of move everybody around.
“Luckily, Coleman Thomas and Jack Jones and a variety of guys have played different positions. The one that has probably done a lot is Devante Brooks. He’s played three different spots.”
Wells likes his players’ work ethic and says “they’re getting to where they need to be” as the season nears.
“It’s just the total package of having the extra bodies so you’re not out here for two hours. A game is not going to be like practice. We all know that.
“The way we practice is going to be an even higher tempo. We just have to continue to keep pushing that mentality, and we’ll see where it’s at come game time.”
Jones doesn’t see the moving parts as a problem, for now.
“It’s valuable reps that these kids are getting right now, and they are having a lot thrown at them. Obviously we will get those individuals back in a day or two … we’ve got to keep that competitive battle going, so we’ve got to get them back.”