That question has bounced around Tennessee fans' heads for weeks now as Team 119 prepares for its opening game against Bowling Green, and the coaching staff is still reticent about who the starting offensive line will be. Because of that, the line has been shaken and stirred like a giant martini as offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and the rest of the staff search for the best fits.
"In the offensive line ... I really believe if a guy knows his technique, like if he's working a combination block with another guy, as long as he does what he's supposed to do, continuity really doesn't mean anything," DeBord said. "That's what we're really trying to do is get guys to do their job and do what we want."
Such attention to detail and focus on technique is necessary for a unit that still has yet to shake itself out since fall camp began. DeBord didn't show his hand Monday night, instead referring to the competition that is ongoing as the Vols continue to look for their starting offensive line combination.
"We're rolling some guys around a little bit," DeBord said. "As we've said from the start of this, we're going to find out who are five best are and who No. 6, 7 and 8 are. That's just the process of where we are and we want to zero in on that as fast as we can."
With cornerbacks Justin Martin and Cameron Sutton missing from Monday’s lineup, along with safeties like Stephen Griffin and Darrell Miller, attrition is starting to take its toll on Tennessee’s secondary and what it’s able to accomplish in practice.
Without a good chunk of its depth on the field, defensive coordinator John Jancek admitted it can be difficult to get a continuous feel for the starting secondary.
“It’s been challenging. We don’t really have a lot of guys back there right now and that’s just reality,” Jancek said.
“I think [the starters] are all pretty well locked in, we’ve just got to be smart moving forward with the way we practice. The things that we do on a day-to-day basis, we’ve just got to be smart to get our players to the game.”
As mentioned earlier in training camp, Tennessee now has the talent in its back end to implement a dime package the defense plans to install Thursday.
With a multitude of solid defensive backs vying for time on the field, Jancek mentioned Micah Abernathy, Malik Foreman, Emmanuel Moseley and Justin Martin as four potential defenders who will come on the field in the dime formation as the team's sixth defensive back.
Plenty of Tennessee fans are exalting praise over the additions of freshmen defensive tackles Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie, but perhaps the most thankful of all is redshirt senior Owen Williams. The 6-foot-1, 295-pound nose tackle has trimmed up and improved his conditioning level, yet he shouldn’t have to play nearly as many snaps as he did last season with the added depth Tuttle and McKenzie bring to the defensive line.
Williams logged playing time in 12 games last season as Danny O’Brien’s backup, notching 21 tackles and two sacks.
“Owen’s moving so much better. His conditioning is at a so much higher level. The other thing is that he’s not going to have to play as many snaps with the two young kids being able to rotate in to give us solid reps,” defensive coordinator John Jancek said.
“It just takes a little bit more workload off him, so when he’s in there, he’s a higher level player. He’s got fewer reps and he just plays at a higher level.”