UT Vols trying to find right combination on offensive line

UT Vols trying to find right combination on offensive line

August 11th, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee Offensive linemen Marcus Jackson, left, and Alex Bullard warm up during an NCAA college football practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013.

Photo by AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Saul Young

KNOXVILLE -- The quest remains the same for Tennessee's offensive line: Find the combination that puts the best players on the field.

There's just no clear target date for the Volunteers to reach that objective.

Tennessee continues to mix and match lineups and move players around on the offensive line one week into preseason training camp, and the Vols now have to deal with a potentially long-term upper-body injury to fifth-year senior starting guard Marcus Jackson.

"A lot of that has to do a little bit with injuries, when guys come back and all that stuff, but whoever's practicing out there, that's who we're playing with, and those are the guys getting evaluated," offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said following Monday's practice. "(There's) no set time, but obviously we want to do it as fast as we can do it. We'll do that.

"The next guy's got to be ready to play, and that's what's good right now in training camp with all the players getting reps at different positions, because you never know when we may have to move somebody."

Jackson has been absent from Tennessee's last two practices. He was still undergoing evaluation late into the weekend. Head coach Butch Jones is expected to provide an official update after practice this morning.

Jashon Robertson and Dylan Wiesman were held out of Monday's practice as well.

That meant the first group on the line consisted of left tackle Kyler Kerbyson, left guard Brett Kendrick, center Mack Crowder, right guard Jack Jones and right tackle Coleman Thomas.

Kendrick exited spring practice as Tennessee's first-team right tackle, Thomas was expected to battle Crowder for the starting center job and Jones is a true freshman who spent most of the spring at tackle after enrolling in January.

"We've got a few guys banged up here and there, so right now, a lot of guys are getting opportunities," DeBord said. "When you get opportunities, you've got to produce. It happens in a season, as everybody knows. You get banged up and guys have got to step up; some guys have got to move around. Everybody's moving up front right now."

Tennessee's second-team tackles at this point of the preseason are freshmen. Chance Hall is getting extensive work at left tackle, while five-star recruit Drew Richmond is working at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Charles Mosley and freshman Venzell Boulware are working at guard.

The Vols believe their freshmen offensive linemen have promising futures, but those futures appear closer than expected for a couple of them.

DeBord said "they better" have a sense of urgency, "because some of them are stepping up with the first group, and a lot of them are with the second group. So they better understand that, and they do — they understand that.

"Right now guys are competing for jobs. Guys are competing to see who's going to be starting and who's second and who's making the travel squad. It's competition every day, and they totally understand that.

"They know that it's all based on performance."

Tennessee tidbits

Tight end Ethan Wolf, defensive tackle Kendal Vickers, defensive back Justin Martin and safety Stephen Griffin were all absent from Monday's practice. Griffin has been in a walking boot for a couple of days, and Martin was rolled up on during a play Saturday.

* Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer attended Monday's practice.

* Redshirt sophomore tight end A.J. Branisel plans to leave Tennessee and transfer to another program.

The Ohio native caught three passes for 28 yards, most notably a fourth-down catch against Georgia, as a freshman in 2013, but he sat out last season to recover from a torn ACL suffered in November 2012.

Following the preseason departures of two tight ends, converted linebacker Jakob Johnson, redshirt freshman Neiko Creamer and walk-on Joe Stocstill are among the competitors for playing time behind Wolf and Alex Ellis.

Even after just two practices it appears Johnson's move from defense will stick.

"He's got to learn the position," DeBord said. "He's athletic and he's tough. He's got good speed for a tight end. He's been two days there, but he's giving great effort, he's into it, he wants to, so he'll get there."

* Converted quarterback Jauan Jennings continues to impress at wide receiver.

"I knew that he could go north," DeBord said of the freshman. "Everybody saw that in the spring where at quarterback he could take the ball and go north. I didn't know if he had the kind of athletic quickness sometimes that receivers need, and he has displayed that. He just keeps getting better and better every practice. He's really bought in."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.