Tennessee’s starting offensive line is still as much a mystery as it was the first day of fall camp in early August.
Butch Jones has been mum on the specifics of who his first team line will eventually be, mainly because he himself is still trying to figure that out as well. Jones continues to shift his linemen in and out of positions to find the best five to take the reins of the offense, and that hasn’t changed as training camp winds down to a close.
But there is a timetable on the horizon.
“We need to start identifying that. Our goal is by the start of next week to have those individuals identified,” Jones said. “We never like to put a time frame, a time limit on it because it’s all about finding the five that work well together … and No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8.”
The third-year Tennessee head coach hasn’t named any favorites in the race and for good reason. The offensive line has shuffled around relentlessly since camp started as players vie for all five starting positions that are open.
Kyler Kerbyson has seen extensive work at left tackle so far and is considered by many to be the frontrunner there. Mack Crowder figures to be the guy to beat at center, and a healthy Jashon Robertson will most likely slide into a guard spot. The other guard and tackle spots appear to be open for business, while every other position continues to see heated competition as well.
“We would like to have something in place just from the overall chemistry and the offensive line group as we continue to move forward,” Jones said. “Over the next couple of days we will be, as we have all camp, moving players around to different position groups trying to find the best that can help us win and play winning football at that position.”
Jones announced a host of players previously out back at practice Tuesday, including three potential offensive line starters.
“We’re starting to get the bulk of our players back,” he said. “We had Jalen Hurd back, Jashon Robertson, John Kelly, Brett Kendrick, Dillon Bates, (and) Jack Jones was back, so obviously that adds to the overall competitive component of your football team.”
But peppered in with the positive injury news was a season-long loss. Jones also formally announced that offensive guard Austin Sanders is out for the year with a bicep tendon injury, the same injury that has also sidelined offensive guard Marcus Jackson for the entire year.
"It just happens with body position. He extended his arm and in a contact phase of a block. He extended his arm, and his bicep tendon went," Jones said. "He is scheduled to have surgery shortly. We'll monitor his academics. We love Austin, and we know he will do a great job in recovery, but we have lost him for the year."
One Snap Away
Quinten Dormady was named the official backup quarterback during fall camp, but that hasn’t changed his approach to practice. The freshman sensation already prepared like the No. 2 guy on the depth chart during spring practice, so the transition to being the go-to backup didn’t change things.
“Coming in, I was coming in prepared. I’m just competing day-in and day-out,” Dormady said. “That’s kind of how I’ve taken the approach every day.”
The 6-foot-4, 216-pound Texas native developed a budding confidence that has been on display in fall camp as he matures in Jones’ offensive system and grows more comfortable with his surroundings as Joshua Dobbs’ backup QB.
“I think (I’m) just more comfortable in a sense of the playbook,” Dormady said. “Getting back out there with the guys I’ve already been with seven, eight months kind of helps. I think that’s just kind of grown since I’ve been here.”
The Receiving End of CompetitionTennessee fans are hoping to see a deep pool of wide receivers on the roster when the regular season begins, and if fall camp is any sign, they will get their wish. The Vols' receiving corps turned in a great practice Saturday as Pig Howard and Von Pearson made spectacular touchdown catches on air during red zone drills.
Sophomore Josh Malone has seen the starting battles unravel in fall camp and has been impressed with his fellow teammates and the improvement they've shown since spring ball.
"It's just a lot of competition," Malone said. "We've got a lot of guys that can go in and make an impact, so we're just pushing each other day-in and day-out to just get better."
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