Will Tennessee be able to win with completely new offensive and defensive lines?
The biggest question facing the Tennessee Volunteers lies in the trenches. The Vols look to replace every starter on both the offensive and defensive line.
On offense, Tennessee will be without its core group of Ja’Wuan James, Alex Bullard, James Stone, Zach Fulton and Antonio Richardson. Entering Sunday’s season opener against Utah State, the Vols will field the following starting lineup:
LT- Jacob Gilliam, 6-4, 297 (redshirt senior)
LG- Marcus Jackson, 6-2, 306 (redshirt junior)
C- Mack Crowder, 6-2, 295 (redshirt junior)
RG- Jashon Robertson 6-3, 304 (freshman)
RT- Kyler Kerbyson, 6-4, 312 (redshirt junior)
Tennessee has the size on offense, but inexperience and a lack of in-game chemistry may prove to be a negative factor against top tier SEC defenses. It’s hard to judge offensive line prospects outside of size and experience, so at the moment, Vol fans have some cause for concern.
The defensive line entering Sunday’s opener is as follows:
DE- Corey Vereen, 6-2, 253 (sophomore): 9 games, 9 solo, 4 assists, 13 total, 1 sack, 1 TFL
DT- Jordan Williams, 6-5, 284 (senior): 31 games, 24 solo, 14 assists, 39 total, 4.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL
NT- Danny O’Brien, 6-2, 286 (redshirt sophomore): 12 games, 8 solo, 4 assists, 12 total, 1 sack, 3 TFL
DE- Derek Barnett, 6-3, 267 (freshman): 4-star prospect, Class AA Tennessee Mr. Football winner (2012, 2013)
Unlike the offense, the new-look defensive line has some statistics to go by entering the opener. Despite not having a single start, the group has made contributions on the field in limited action. Playing in front of a strong linebacking corps of A.J. Johnson, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and a healthy Curt Maggitt will take some pressure off of the inexperienced defensive line.
Sunday’s game will provide the first indication of whether Tennessee can survive with all new starters on both the offensive and defensive lines. Perhaps not equivalent to the opposition of SEC contenders, Utah State has plenty of talent and is a sleeper non-conference matchup. This game will provide experience on both sides of the trenches and will be an early tool to prepare for the grind of the SEC season.