When you think of the Tennessee offensive line, excited isn’t exactly a word that comes to mind. But that’s exactly what Jeremy Pruitt claims to be about his 2019 group up front.
“I’m excited about our 2019 offensive line,” Pruitt said on Thursday. “You look at these guys when they walk into a room, whether they’re guys that have been here for a year, two years, three years, you can see how their bodies have changed.”
Tennessee’s offensive line in 2018 was the weak point that broke the back of the offense, thanks to a few key injuries and an overall lack of talent. Now healthier, and with the addition of three blue-chip talents from the 2019 recruiting class, the line is finally looking the part again.
The Vols return senior center Brandon Kennedy from a knee injury in 2018. They get back veterans Marcus Tatum, Ryan Johnson and Jahmir Johnson, while guys like K’Rojhn Calbert and Jerome Carvin have have another season of experience under their belts. Wanya Morris, Darnell Wright, Jackson Lampley and Chris Akporoghene will add plenty of new talent to the room, while instantly pushing for playing time.
“We’ve got guys that have experience, that have played in a lot of games,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got guys who, again, are new on campus and are looking for the opportunity to play. We have competition in the room. We have smart guys, we have guys to me that demonstrated in the spring some physical toughness.”
Pruitt noted that he had enough bodies during spring practice to rotate groups of five in order to maximize reps for everyone. That’s something that he couldn’t do in year one. With added competitive depth, Tennessee should see some progress on the field this spring after ranking nearly the bottom of the FBS in total offense over the last two years.
Still, there will likely be some growing pains — especially with two five-star freshman tackles expected to start. There’s also the Trey Smith situation, which continues to be a wildcard as the junior lineman fights back from his blood clot issue.
“If you look at the group all together, they’ve not played a lot together,” Pruitt noted. “We mixed a lot of different groups this spring. But I’m excited about the group and how they’re going to perform in fall camp and moving forward.”
If this offense has any shot to succeed, it needs Jarrett Guarantano to take a step forward. If Guarantano is going to do that, he needs his offensive line to step up and protect. Finding the right starting five up front and building chemistry between them is the single most important objective of fall camp with just a little over four weeks until the season opener against Georgia State.