Vols' O-line shuffles and shifts

Tennessee is still looking for its five best offensive linemen as the Vols prepare for the season opener vs. Bowling Green Sept. 5.

Brett Kendrick has plenty of respect for what his fellow offensive linemen have to do each and every day. After all, Kendrick has done it all himself.

The redshirt sophomore has played all five positions on the line in fall camp since starting left guard Marcus Jackson went down with a torn bicep. The injury forced a unit that has been shuffled more than a Vegas card deck to move around even more as Tennessee prepares for the start of the regular season.

“We hit some adversity early with Marcus going down,” Kendrick told InsideTennessee. “Obviously that was pretty tough, so we’ve just been moving around positions, trying to find the best five to get on the field. I think we’re growing tight as a position group and I think it’s going really well.”

Butch Jones has yet to decide who that starting five will be, so for now the Vols’ head coach has mixed and matched a position group that has as many combinations as it does question marks.

Kendrick, a full-time left tackle in high school at Christian Academy of Knoxville, moved over to both guard spots and even got a shot at center in training camp. But despite staying on the line, the transition still takes it toll on someone who has never played the other positions.

“He had to move down to guard and get guard work in and he’s never done that before, so it was really hard on him,” offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson said. “He’s been asking me, because I had to do the same thing, because he wants to be the best he can at that position.”

Kerbyson knows the feeling. The redshirt senior started the first two games of last season at right tackle and the next five at left tackle before switching to left guard and, finally, back to left tackle against South Carolina in November. But unlike his counterpart, the fellow Knoxville native has settled into one position this fall in hopes of having some consistency after moving around to three different positions in 2014.

“Being able to play every position and going to every position opens your eyes more to what the defense does and how you can understand what the guy next to you does,” Kerbyson said. “You want to be very compatible as an O-line. You don’t want to be an open hand with five fingers. You want to be a closed fist. Being able to play every position will help you understand it more.”

But even Tennessee’s football version of the utility infielder understands the negatives of being shuffled around so much without being able to key in on one spot.

“Now, if you are playing every position, you can’t get honed in on your skills at one. I’ve been lucky enough to play just left tackle this fall, so I’ve been able to hone in my skills on that,” Kerbyson said. “I got lucky with that. Last year it was somewhat of a struggle bouncing around and playing different things, but you’ve really got to take it in stride. You can’t let it get to you.”

The 6-foot-4, 318-pounder has done everything in his power to guide Kendrick and the rest of the unit as they switch positions and look for the best starting combination for the Sept. 5 opener against Bowling Green.

Tennessee offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

With Kerbyson’s help and despite the less than ideal scenario, Kendrick — who says he feels most comfortable at a tackle position — has come to understand how the forced versatility helps his game and improves the makeup of the offensive line.

“I think versatility is always a good thing. Talking about the next level, scouts will look for people who can play multiple positions,” he said. “The more use I have to the team, the better I am. I’ve gotten a lot of work at pretty much every position. Bouncing around, it’s helped me with versatility, but I guess I’m ready to settle down into one position.”

Butch Jones undoubtedly feels the same way. With the Sept. 5 opener less than a month away, the coaching staff would like to have its starting five in place soon to give them the most reps.

While Jones wouldn’t set a specific date on when he wants to have his offensive line in place, the Tennessee head coach appreciates his line’s effort and willingness to play guinea pig to find the best fit for the Vols.

"You never put timetables on anything because everything is all about growth and development and maturation and sometimes it take a little more time,” Jones said.

“But the five working together obviously helps, but we need to find the right five, and all of the individuals have worked exceptionally hard. I've liked their mentality and the way they've approached practice.

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