Simply put, Tennessee’s offensive line was pushed around far too often last season. Of course, injuries to key starters Trey Smith and Brandon Kennedy didn’t help the cause. But, it was clear following the 2018 campaign that the Vols’ needed to get bigger, stronger, and meaner up front — in a hurry.
On national signing day it appeared that the Vols had accomplished this goal. They signed a total of five offensive linemen, four of which already weighed at least 300-pounds. The one player that didn’t, Chris Akporoghene, came up just six pounds short. The highlights of the 2019 recruiting class were bookend tackles, Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris.
Morris, a 6-4, 312 pounder out of Grayson High School, graded as a 5-star player and the 28th best player in the country according to the 247Sports Composite ranking. Despite offers from just about every major school in the country Morris signed with Tennessee, where he will have the chance to start as a true freshman in the Southeastern Conference.
With excellent footwork and agility for his size, Morris is already a very capable run blocker both at the line of scrimmage and up to the second level. He brings a physical style of play to a position that has frankly lacked physicality in recent years at Tennessee.
So, what makes Morris, a true freshman with zero collegiate experience, such an important piece to the 2019 Tennessee Volunteers? Well, for one it’s his position. Left tackle is arguably the most important position on the offensive line as it is the player responsible for protecting the blind side of Jarrett Guarantano. Jarrett — bless his heart — needs to stop getting hit so doggone much. Morris’ play will be critical to making sure that the quarterback remains more upright in 2019. Sure, there are ways to protect the young tackle, but it comes at a cost. The tight end could help block, but that eliminates a great receiving threat in Dominick Wood-Anderson from being more involved in the passing game. A running back could help as well, but again, this would sacrifice a player like Ty Chandler in the passing game, who has elite catch and run abilities as a check down target.
An additional consideration is who will play next to Morris at left guard? Trey Smith is a phenomenal linemen in his own right, and his veteran leadership as well as knowledge of the playbook would be a tremendous help at the line of scrimmage for the young Morris. However, Trey Smith’s status for the upcoming season remains uncertain. Thanks to the aforementioned emphasis in recruiting size Tennessee still has many capable interior offensive linemen. But, depth inside recently took a hit with the news that Nathan Niehaus decided to leave the program.
Speaking of depth, who would fill in for Wanya Morris in the event that he gets injured? Redshirt Junior Marcus Tatum showed a great deal of improvement last season, and with hard work in the strength and conditioning program added 20-pounds to his frame. He would likely be the best fit, but his natural position is right tackle rather than left.
For these reasons Wanya Morris comes in fourth on our list of most important Vols for 2019. His play will be vitally important towards protecting the quarterback, and establishing the run. With his 5-star rating come extremely high expectations. Morries will need to get up to speed quickly as the Vols welcome in a recently nasty BYU defense in Week Two, and head to the Swamp in Week Four.
Have you missed previous articles on the most important players for Tennessee this fall? No worries! Check out the links below to get caught up.
No. 5 — Darnell Wright
No. 6 — Bryce Thompson
No. 7 — Daniel Bituli
No. 8 — Marquez Callaway
No. 9 — Ty Chandler
No. 10 — Darell Taylor