The story of the Tennessee offense for the past two seasons has been the struggles of the offensive line. Unfortunately for Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols, those struggles continued on Saturday during the spring game.
Though it’s probably not wise to overreact to a glorified practice, it was still concerning to see this front five struggle to generate a push against a Tennessee first team defense that lost three starters on the defensive line last year. And to be fair, Tennessee has help on the way. Five-star tackle Darnell Wright, four-star guard Jackson Lampley and three-star guard Melvin McBride will each join the Vols in the fall.
But for now, it’s tough to be encouraged with the product that we saw on Saturday.
“We’ve got more guys that have an opportunity to contribute right now than last year,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said after the game. “But we have to learn to compete harder. We have to play with better pad angles. Have to be lower with our body. We have to take the correct steps. We have to be finishers.”
The first team offensive line (White team) struggled in pass protection, which was a familiar sight to quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler combined for 71 yards on 15 carries. On the other side, Jeremy Banks ran seven times for just 24 yards.
Those struggles were immediately pointed out by Pruitt on Saturday after the game. Tennessee’s second year head coach challenged the entire group to get better on their own.
“You can do a lot as an offensive lineman by yourself,” Pruitt said. “Whether you’re taking a zone step, a stretch step, you’re going to work a double team — you can do all that on your own. And we need guys to do that. They need to have pride in their performance and go work hard this offseason.”
Pretty strong statement there.
Tennessee is going to have to rely on freshmen Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright likely as starters this season. Trey Smith’s status remains up in the air with his blot clot situation. Brandon Kennedy should be ready for the fall after his ACL injury against West Virginia last year.
The Vols haven’t had much luck by way of injuries up front, but veterans like Marcus Tatum, Jahmir Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Riley Locklear, K’Rojhn Calbert and Nathan Niehaus will have to step up. Each one of those guys will be key parts of the equation, either by way of depth or as starters. Tennessee’s numbers at the position will look a lot better in the fall, that should create more competition, but again, there’s not a lot of experience in that room.
“We need a really good offseason at every position,” Pruitt said. “We have guys that need to improve their strength. I don’t think that will be an issue.”
Everyone wants to talk about Jarrett Guarantano as the driving force behind this team’s potential. There’s certainly truth to that statement, but his success is largely tied to his protection and the success of the run game. Until this offensive front starts moving bodies consistently again, the Vols will continue to struggle offensively.
It’s that simple.