Competition breeds excellence with Vols OL

While position battles wage across both sides of the ball, one Tennessee unit has fully embraced the budding competitive atmosphere.

All spring and into the summer Tennessee has leaned on a competitive offensive line race in which virtually no starting position is a lock.

With the emergence of talented freshmen like Jack Jones and Drew Richmond challenging veteran leaders like fifth-year senior tackle Kyler Kerbyson, the intensity level in practice has risen considerably due to the new depth of scholarship linemen.

“There’s definitely a competition and (offensive line) coach (Don Mahoney) reminds us of that. He says, 'I’ll take you out. I’ll put somebody else in there if you’re messing up,'” Kerbyson said.

“Competition always makes you better. I felt like when I was younger, competition with the older guys made them better and I’m glad to see younger guys making me better.”

Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord echoed those sentiments Thursday.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that competition always makes an individual better and a unit better, so we’ve had great competition there right now,” DeBord said. “I think the biggest thing is we’re going to have find out who the five best guys are as we go through this training camp and we’ll have to find them fairly fast. Once we get into pads, that will really start to show.”

Richmond has hit the ground running this fall and is expected to compete for a tackle spot. Players like the early enrollee Jones and redshirt sophomore Dontavius Blair will also vie for playing time throughout fall camp.

The new competition is a testament to how far this unit has come since giving up the most sacks in the SEC one year ago. While Tennessee rebounds from 2014's showing, at least one player on the offensive front has embraced some prognosticators' declaration that the offense's success in 2015 hinges upon a better line.

“I love it. I like having pressure on us,” Kerbyson said. “I feel like it makes us better so I really want it to be on us. Everyone talks about the skill guys because they’re young but talented and it’s always a question mark with the O-line. I want to show people we’re the glue that holds it together.”

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