One of the big issues entering the 2019 season for Tennessee was the state of the offensive line. The group returned plenty of bodies from the 2018 team, while adding two five-star tackles in Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris into the mix. If Tennessee was going to take a step forward, the offensive line needed to take a step forward — it was that simple.
Or so we thought.
The offensive line has taken a step forward this year, at least in pass protection. Jarrett Guarantano had time to operate in the pocket, which couldn’t really be said in 2018. However, Tennessee’s junior quarterback seemed to regress, which set the offense back once again. That problem has been addressed with freshman quarterback Brian Maurer, who showed a lot in his first start for the Volunteers against Georgia.
But questions still remain, mainly about this rushing attack. Tennessee is averaging just 3.75 yards per carry — good for dead last in the SEC. While the offensive line is certainly protecting the quarterback better, they still aren’t winning consistently in the trenches.
Part of that is simply youth and inexperience. Tennessee is playing with two freshman starters up front, who have had quite a bit dumped on their plate from day one. Wanya Morris has been the starting left tackle for the first five games, while Darnell Wright has spent time at right guard and right tackle.
“There’s times for both of them when you watch them play, there are some really good things that they do,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said on Wednesday. “But the things that they both have to focus on is the habits they create during the day. They both have been blessed with a lot of ability. But it’s what are they going to do with that ability to take it and go to work every single day and what are their goals.”
Both Wright and Morris were five-star prospects, ranking inside of the 247 Sports top 30 in the class of 2019. The two players are cornerstones for Pruitt and his staff as they look to rebuild this offensive line into something that can win consistently in the SEC.
How much can each player grow over the next three to four years? According to Pruitt, that’s totally up to them.
“I’m talking about individual to the last snap of every practice, whether it’s on Monday or whether it’s on Saturday,” Pruitt said. “How do you go to work and how to work to create the right habits to be at your best all the time. That is something that they have to decide how good they want to be.”
For Jeremy Pruitt’s sake, both Wright and Morris need to take steps forward down the stretch for Tennessee. While Pruitt doesn’t seem to be in any danger, this program still needs to show improvement in the second half to get some recruiting momentum back ahead of the offseason.
Both players are examples of elite talent coming to Tennessee and playing right off the bat. You can bet that the Tennessee staff is going to be using that line in living rooms across the country during the heavy recruiting season this winter.