This story was updated March 21, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's new football coaching staff is dealing with the same problem that hurt the Volunteers' offense late last season: There just aren't a lot of healthy linemen.
Offensive line appeared to be a position group of depth and strength for Tennessee entering last season. But by November, it was down to six healthy players — four of them freshmen — as the Vols limped to the first eight-loss season in program history.
There were 14 offensive linemen listed on the spring roster distributed Tuesday before the Vols practiced for the first time under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt. But only 11 of those are scholarship players, with just eight considered healthy enough to be full participants in spring practices. Of those eight, two are true freshmen who enrolled in January.
"All I know is we went four groups today, so if you went four times five, that's 20, right?" Pruitt said after running his first practice. "So we repped four groups, and we got it done with what we had out there."facebook
Pruitt responded to a reporter's question about the lack of offensive linemen by saying, "You know better than me how many we've got there."
"I don't know how many we've got healthy," he said, "but I know the guys we had out there took some reps and got it done. But yes, we need more numbers. I think we've talked about that. We're behind (on) numbers, and we need O-linemen."
Scholarship offensive linemen K'Rojhn Calbert and Trey Smith worked through conditioning drills with strength coach Craig Fitzgerald on the side at Tuesday's practice. The long-term status of Smith, who was named to the Football Writers Association of America's Freshman All-America Team for 2017, remains uncertain as he deals with an undisclosed medical issue. Pruitt has indicated he is hopeful Smith will return this season.
Chance Hall, meanwhile, is recovering from a recent knee surgery.
Barring the addition of any new offensive linemen, the best case scenario for Tennessee is that it has 13 healthy scholarship offensive linemen ready for preseason practices when newcomers Tanner Antonutti and Jahmir Johnson join the roster this summer. That would require making it through 14 more spring practices without significant injuries and getting Calbert, Hall and Smith back to full strength within four months.
Even then, Tennessee would still be below the 16 to 18 healthy scholarship offensive linemen Pruitt would prefer. But having 13 would be an upgrade over what the Vols have now as they try to practice with a skeleton crew.
"It makes some things a little tougher, but our guys and our coaches, we're finding a way," Pruitt said. "This happens everywhere. It is what it is. We've got to find a way to figure it out and get it done.
"Just because we've got this amount of O-linemen — well we've got this amount of wide receivers, and we've got to get those guys reps. Our guys will do a good job of figuring it out, and we'll make sure it happens."