Making moves

Get all the latest from spring practice from InsideTenenssee. Offensive linemen Dallas Thomas and Antonio Richardson talk about their new roles up front. Be sure to come to IT for all the latest in Tennessee athletics.

Looking at 6-foot-6, 329-pound offensive lineman Antonio Richardson takes a lot more than a passing glance. The former U.S. Army All-American is one of the most imposing men in the Orange and White when he steps onto Haslam Field.

Still, Richardson was unable to see the field in a starting role as a freshman during the 2011 campaign. Something that was a growing experience — mentally, not physically of course.

"Last year was all mental for me," Richardson said Tuesday. "I learned a lot and now that I know what I am doing, I am going to play fast. That was the thing last year: I wasn't able to play as fast."

The Nashville native had aspirations of starring in the trenches from the moment he shook the earth in Knoxville, but was unable to budge the anchor that was junior left tackle Dallas Thomas.

"It was a reality check," said Richardson of his freshman season. "I thought I was going to come in and get a better opportunity than I did. But I didn't. It humbled me a little more. I was able to sit in the background and learn from the other guys."

Tennessee offensive lineman Dallas Thomas
Fast forward several months, and Richardson couldn't be ignored any longer. The sophomore opened spring practice as the No. 1 left tackle with Thomas sliding inside to the guard position following a stress fracture in the foot of fellow buffet bankruptor Zach Fulton.

"It is really just trying to five the best five offensive linemen and figuring out where to fit the best five," Derek Dooley said of the shift. "We know Dallas is one of our best five. He has proven that. As long as he stays that course.

"Working in Antonio, working in Mack (Crowder), working in (Kyler) Kerbyson, working in Allen Posey. And, of course, James (Stone) is always in that rotation. We are doing a lot of rotating to try and figure it out."

Thomas, himself, has always been curious about the guard position, but could only watch from a distance from his island at tackle.

"I have always been really curious to get down there and see what it is like," Thomas said. "I have always looked at it and I thought it might be fun because they always get the little knock-down blocks with the center. I always wanted to check it out."

Richardson was just grateful for the opportunity that Thomas was willing to give him with such a selfless approach to the move.

"It shows that he is willing to do whatever," Richardson said. "When they said they wanted Dallas to slide in and play at guard I was really excited about how humble he was because it was my opportunity to come in."

If anything, Thomas wants to see the man they call "Tiny" on the field in order to help the team flourish in his senior season.

"Whatever the team needs I am going to do it," Thomas said. "If they want me to play defense, then I would go over there without hesitation. It is just about being about the team and not just about yourself.

"We can't just look at me and not Tiny because he is fighting for a position, too. They want to look at Tiny too and they want to look at me at guard. I just look at it like we are both getting better."

Dooley has preached "team first" as one of the organization's core values, and one would have to dig to find someone else to embodies the company motto more than Thomas.

"Dallas is a team guy, and I think he has a lot of trust in the coaching staff," Dooley said. "I think he has a lot of confidence in his abilities, which he should. The more guys we have like Dallas — he is a mature guy."

Watch as Antonio "Tiny" Richardson addresses the media following Tuesday's morning practice:

Chris Price is a staff writer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously an intern for the site for two years before graduating from the University of Tennessee. He joined the InsideTennessee team in 2009.

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