Last year, Tennessee had what might be the single worst offensive line in all of major college football and definitely was in the SEC. At times you quite literally wanted to pray that Jarrett Guarantano would stay alive for all 60 minutes of the game.
Now, why was it so bad? It was a collection of things. Firstly, LG Trey Smith missed half the year with blood clots and the half that he did play, he was never himself. Secondly, Alabama transfer, Center Brandon Kennedy went out for the year in the second half of the Vols season opener vs West Virginia. Lastly, the rest were either injured or well undersized to play offensive line in the SEC. Guys like Ryan Johnson, Marcus Tatum, Nathan Niehaus, Jerome Carvin and Jamir Johnson just couldn’t handle the load. Every Saturday it was like 5 Ford Rangers trying to hold back F-350’s. Let’s just say the odds were against them.
Now entering the 2019 season I’m somewhat optimistic about this group. With Jim Chaney as the OC I expect to see a great deal of improvement from them. For starters, Brandon Kennedy will be healthy. From what I’ve heard, in the fall camp leading up to the 2018 season he was basically the leader of the line and arguably the best overall linemen on the team. If he can stay healthy he could hold this group up even if they get thin at times.
The biggest question of this entire offseason is if Trey Smith is going to play. Jeremy Pruitt has said that he is in the best shape of his life, but yet there are several medical risks in letting him start for this team. This is an especially touchy subject because he doesn’t have a typical injury, he has blood clots in his lungs and he’s risking a lot if he wants to play. Most believe he will play but it is still uncertain. If he does play, this offensive line becomes a whole different animal. When Trey is healthy, he might be one of the best offensive linemen in college football.
Another reason to be confident is that the Vols signed two 5 star offensive linemen in last year’s class, which are Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright. Wanya checks in at 6’4” and 310 pounds, he was rated the no.2 overall prospect out of Georgia by ESPN. He will probably have the best chance of starting because he arrived in the spring, meaning he has more familiarity with the team and his body will be more prepared. Darnell is 6’6” and 320 pounds, he was ESPN’s no.5 overall player, and was rated the no.1 player out of West Virginia by Rivals, 247, and ESPN. He definitely has the frame to play in this conference, the only question is if he’ll have trouble adjusting from playing high school ball in West Virginia to playing in the toughest conference in all of college football.
Then, we have the other guys, Ryan Johnson, K’Rojhn Calbert, Marcus Tatum, Jerome Carvin, Jamir Johnson, and Riley Locklear. This group didn’t have the best reputation in the world last year, but with another year in the weight room and last years experience under their belt, I expect to see a good bit of improvement form them this fall.