published Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Line redshirts now help Vols

  • photo
    UT's Mack Crowder centers the ball for quarterback Matt Simms during the Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium in this file photo.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Mack Crowder and Kyler Kerbyson spent a season on the sideline.

Both Tennessee offensive linemen hope that translates to more time on the field in the future.

The Volunteers redshirted three of their five freshman offensive linemen last season, and now Crowder, Kerbyson and Alan Posey are providing depth in the trenches.

"That freshman year, being a redshirt, it really helped," Kerbyson said Tuesday as the Vols began the final week of spring practice. "During training camp, I didn't know if I was going to or not, and when it was toward the end and finally our coach told me, I kind of got a little devastated.

"I realized it's a gift to have an extra year to play football and get an education. It was totally worth it. It was great being able to redshirt and to learn more rather than having all that pressure on me."

Crowder, a center from Bristol, has made the biggest splash of the redshirted trio this spring. UT coach Derek Dooley said earlier this spring that the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder was "pushing" starter Alex Bullard. The coach added Tuesday that Crowder, along with likely starting left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, have had the "biggest jumps" this spring.

Crowder attributes that to a redshirt year that he expected from the start.

"Man, that helped me a lot, just getting my size and strength up," said the high school teammate of tight Brendan Downs. "It helped me learn the offense pretty well, too. This year I just came in and didn't have to pick up on much. I just carried it on from last year.

"I felt like I was a little small. I graduated high school early, so that helped a lot, too. Just getting in the program, the weight room and everything just helped."

Though he looks like the youngest of the five linemen UT signed in 2010, Crowder has been on campus the longest. He and Downs briefly practiced with the Vols as they prepared for the Music City Bowl in December 2010.

Dooley said he likes Crowder's consistency and dependability, which he said is "paramount" at the center position.

"He's not going to overwhelm you with his size and power," the coach said, "but he delivers the ball consistently, he makes the calls the right way, he's on the right guys and he's a good technician. He's had a pretty good spring because of it."

Kerbyson, a former standout at nearby Catholic High School, has served as UT's utility lineman this spring. The 6-foot-5, 316-pound Kerbyson has worked at right guard and on the left side of the line, which he said is completely new to him. He begins every practice working on his snaps.

"We're moving him around a little bit right now trying to find the right spot for him, which has hurt him a little bit mentally," offensive line coach Sam Pittman said last week. "He's fine with what we're doing [with him]."

Coleman going up

Dooley was very complimentary of sophomore cornerback Justin Coleman, who made six tackles in Saturday's scrimmage.

"He's gone up and up and up and up the whole spring," Dooley said. "When you look first off at height, weight, speed, he's got SEC measurables. He's got everything you want at the corner position from a height, weight, speed, athleticism, ball-skill. He's a heavy-handed guy.

"He's taking coaching better than he ever has, and we're seeing him have a really good spring."

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Georgia native started the first two games of his career but was victimized on a couple of long pass plays. He made just one total tackle during a six-game midseason stretch before regaining a starting position. He made five stops against Arkansas.

Regardless of Coleman's struggles, Dooley never worried about his confidence plummeting too low.

"I knew it was going to be a problem last season," he said. "I wasn't worried long term because he's a competitor. You watch his high school film, he was all over the place.

"It was obviously a hard thing to manage last year, but now ... I think confidence comes with taking the coaching, learning the techniques and having some success."

Spring plans

The Vols wrap up spring with Saturday's Orange and White Game, but Dooley made it clear Tuesday that his team isn't relaxing leading up to the exhibition finale.

"We made a real point not to stick one foot out the door here this last week," he said. "This is a real important week to show improvement. We had every player identify two things that they need to improve upon the most the last week, and we even keep moving some things around to evaluate players."

Under Dooley, the Vols usually have held a player-led draft to determine the teams for the spring game. It might not be the same this season.

"We're going to probably do some things differently, but I haven't really finalized anything," Dooley said. "We've got to get through tomorrow's practice."

Status updates

Safety Byron Moore worked out on the side during Tuesday's practice after suffering an ankle injury in Saturday's scrimmage. ... Linebacker Christian Harris underwent successful surgery on the torn ACL in his left knee last Friday, the program announced Tuesday. The timetable for the redshirt freshman's return is yet to be determined.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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