Offensive line eager to surprise, more notes

InsideTennessee brings you the most complete coverage from the Vols' spring practices. Scroll down to read a notebook packed with all the latest news and updates.

Kyler Kerybson hears all the doubt.

And he embraces it.

"I'd rather have it where people don't think we can do it," Tennessee's redshirt junior offensive lineman said. "That way we can surprise them."

But Kerbyson, a Knoxville native, also understands the doubt.

Tennessee must replace its entire starting offensive line this season. And as if that wasn't bad enough, that exiting group includes three or four potential picks in May's NFL Draft.

Kerbyson knows his unit shoulders a tough task.

"We're smaller and less athletic than them," Kerbyson says bluntly. "It's just how it is."

But the new offensive front is not only smaller and less athletic, it's extremely inexperienced.

Kerbyson, who has been working as the Vols' starting right guard early this spring, has played in seven games in his career, but pockets no starts. Most of his experience comes from goal line situations.

Fellow guard Marcus Jackson returns the most experience, starting in five games as a freshman. But there's some rust there.

Jackson didn't see the field all last fall, earning a redshirt to bolster depth.

Center Mack Crowder is the only other projected starter to own a start to his name, but even that's suspect.

Crowder replaed James Stone for the first few series against South Carolina last season because Stone was supposedly late to a team meeting.

But what the new unit lacks in size and experience, Kerbyson says makes up for it with a rigid work ethic.

"All of us haven't gotten the chance to play yet. This is our first year, so we take so much pride in the fact that it's our first year to go out and prove something," Kerbyson told InsideTennessee. "We're hard workers and finishers. That's what we want to be."

Asked if Team 118's offensive line plays with a "chip on its shoulder," Kerbyson cracked a smile.

"Yeah," he shot back. "You bet we do."

But media and fans forget something about the new bunch of buffet bashers, Kerbyson says.

While last year's group of Antonio Richardson, Stone and Ja'Wuan James played next to each other for three season, this year's bunch has as well.

Just not in the limelight.

Kerbyson, Crowder and Jackson — all redshirt juniors — have served on the second team and scout units their entire tenure on Rocky Top.

According to Kerbyson, the unit has "great" chemistry as a result and he believes it will pay dividends this fall.

"We've become such a close unit," Kerbyson said. "We feel connect and we feel we can do a lot of work out on the field. When one of us makes a play, the other two get more jacked — more excited for the next play. … It makes us push each other."

It's with that chemistry in mind that Kerbyson boldly states the goal of this year's offensive line — to be as good, if not better, than the unit was last season.

"We thought we were just as good as those guys. And if you don't have that mindset you're not going to go out there and perform like you want to," Kerbyson said. "We're just trying to be as good as we can be."

Ups and downs for rookie O-linemen

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If the starting offensive line the Vols have been showing early in spring practice stays the same, two newcomers will play both tackle positions next fall.

JUCO transfer Dontavius Blair has been starting at left tackle and freshman Coleman Thomas at right.

Kerbyson said he sees lots of potential in both, but added that each needs to work on their mental toughness.

"They have they physical ability to do it," Kerbyson said. "They just have to get their minds right. They just have to know that they can beat those guys. They can. They're athletic, they're big. That's why we recruited them."

Kerbyson said Thomas also has a long ways to go in terms of learning the playbook, but once that ‘s done, he has big expectations for the rookie.

"As soon as (Thomas) learn the plays, it's going to be over — dominate," he said.

Blair, Kerbyson said, needs to work on his conditioning. The same remark has been said about the Vols' other JUCO transfer, defensive tackle Owen Williams.

Helm shines early

After being upbeat and positive about his team's first two spring practices, Jones said the Vols finally showed their youth Tuesday during the first full-padded outing.

Jones did, however, point to Daniel Helm as the sole newcomer to not hit a snag during drills, praising the freshman tight end for making plays in the team's scrimmage.

Reeves-Maybin finds a home

After moving positions several times last fall, Jalen Reeves-Maybin has finally settled at "Will" or weak-side linebacker.

Coaches continually told IT last season that weight and playing with leverage kept Reeves-Maybin off the field. He feels neither will be a problem this season.

"I feel a lot better taking on linemen," Reeves-Maybin said.

The sophomore from Clarksville, Tenn., says he currently weights 217 pounds and wants to get up to 220 before the season.

Smith stays strong

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Tennessee wideout Josh Smith's struggles last season were well documented, and he said Tuesday that his goal for his sophomore season is to not drop a single ball.

During his trying freshman season, Vols coaches maintained that Smith has the best hands on the team. Smith agreed Tuesday. He's clearly confident in his abilities.

Some blame Smith's rollercoaster first season on his youth — being thrown into the fire of SEC football without the chance to sit back and learn.

While Smith joked that it was a shock to go from playing against Loudon (Tenn.) High School cornerbacks to Alabama's, he said the coaching staff told him from the moment they offered that he would likely start as a freshman.

O'Brien moving on

Tennessee redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Danny O'Brien, who was one of several Vols arrested this winter after police broke up an off-campus party, spoke for the first time since the incident.

O'Brien said he's "glad" the arrest happened, saying it "taught me a life lesson I'll take with me forever."

Discuss the Vols' third spring practice with InsideTennessee analysts and subscribers by clicking here.

Butch Jones, per university

Malik Foreman video interview

A.J. Johnson video interview

Kyler Kerbyson video interview

Jalen Reeves-Maybin video interview

Josh Smith video interview

Devrin Young video interview

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