published Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Wrestling past has helped UT Vols freshman Jashon Robertson

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's new-look offensive line will include one true freshman in the season opener against Utah State 12 days from now.

It just won't be the one everyone thought it would be.

After beginning the Volunteers' preseason training camp at defensive tackle, Jashon Robertson has surged so fast that coaches shuffled the first-team line to accommodate his progress, and it's looking like the freshman will stick in the starting lineup at right guard.

And Robertson's past as a wrestler is part of the reason why.

"Wrestling, it works wonders," he said after Monday's practice. "I've seen guys on my team in high school, they had a year or two of wrestling and they came out on the football field a totally different player. It helps with your balance, hands, leverage -- everything. It perfectly relates to football, especially the mental aspect of it.

"There's something about getting off your back when somebody has you on your back, and being down in the fourth quarter, that completely correlates, that mindset that you have to fight and get up and that never-quit attitude."

Robertson, one of the strongest players on the team, was a pretty good wrestler, too.

The 6-foot-3, 304-pounder out of Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville wrestled for four years, from the eighth grade to his junior year, when he won the Division II state title in the 285-pound division in 2013.

Still, it's hard to describe how quickly he's ascended to Tennessee's starting offensive line.

"It is a little surprising that he stepped into a role that fast," said junior Kyler Kerbyson, who has slid from guard to right tackle on the first team. "He's gung-ho all the way, and he wants to learn as much as he can. He asks me questions all the time whenever we're not in, and I really like that about him. He's a hard worker."

From essentially the first day of spring practice earlier this year, Coleman Thomas was Tennessee's first-team right tackle, but Robertson's surge, Kerbyson's versatility and freshman Thomas' own struggles have bumped him from the first unit.

"Some individuals are ahead of other individuals in the learning curve," coach Butch Jones said. "Jashon has done a great job. It's been a big benefit of having him on the offensive side of the ball."

Robertson spent the first three practices of preseason camp on the defensive line, and he split time between offense and defense in the fourth practice, after which he met with Jones, who told Robertson he felt the best way he'd help the Vols was to make a full-time switch to offense.

Offensive line coach Don Mahoney, offensive quality control coach and former Tennessee offensive lineman Anthony Parker and his teammates were reasons Robertson said he "immediately" felt at home on offense.

"The coaches told me that I'd have an opportunity to help the team and contribute," Robertson said. "At the beginning, I just wanted to contribute to the team in any kind of way, whether it's punt shield, field goal, anything. If this is my role on the team, that'll be my role."

Kerbyson has played all over the line in his four years at Tennessee. He spent most of last season working at right tackle behind Ja'Wuan James before a surge of his own got him a first-team spot at guard entering spring practice.

"He's provided some stability at that position, and we're going to need that stability in moving forward," Jones said.

"[Kerbyson] has the ability to play both. It's kind of where we're at in the program. Realistically, he'd probably be more of a guard than a tackle, but he's answered that challenge and he's performed on a consistent basis. He's athletic, but he's very, very smart. He's a smart football player, and we need him to be a smart football player."

Robertson committed to Vanderbilt following his 10th-grade year in June 2012, but he switched to Tennessee in January after coach James Franklin left the Commodores for Penn State. He made a weekend visit to Knoxville, where he spent time with longtime friend Jalen Hurd, Tennessee's freshman tailback.

"I kind of closed a lot things down during my recruitment at a young age," Robertson said. "I would say that's probably pretty much an immature thing for me to do in that situation.

"I'm just glad to be where I'm at, I'm glad the way things worked out and I'm happy for this opportunity."

It's one he's seized -- and then some.

"Jashon seems like a natural," Kerbyson said. "He played offensive line in high school, so he knows the ins and outs of it. He came over, Coach Mo really took him under his wing and we've been able to develop him really well. He's going to help us."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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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