Thomas, who played in 11 games last season including five starts at right tackle, is slated as both the starting center and also as the possible starting right tackle on Tennessee's official depth chart that was released Monday. The 6-foot-6, 308-pound Fort Chiswell (Va.) High School standout was shuffled around quite a bit in fall camp, serving as the paradigm of Tennessee’s O-line heading into 2015.
“He’s physically strong and athletic,” offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said of his potential starter. “I think he’s just a little more natural (at center) than he is at tackle, but he’s got to be able to play both.”
Brett Kendrick could be asked to move around as well. The redshirt sophomore started two games at left tackle last season and is now listed as the starting right tackle heading into 2015.
“He’s had experience at tackle, so once again, he’s got that in his back pocket,” DeBord said. “He knows the system and he’s had good practices as well.”
Despite the looming question marks and more potential shuffling, the coaching staff is confident the line will be able to do its job well enough for Tennessee to have success on the offensive side of the ball. The offense turned in some of its best practices of the fall this week according to DeBord and he’s been pleased with its overall progression behind a shifting line.
“I just think that we’ve been blocking really well,” he said. “Our passing game has been good. I just think it’s everything. I just think we’re putting it together right now at a good time.”
Tennessee is hoping its offensive line can help bring out the new dynamism of the backfield with the addition of Alvin Kamara coupled with a year of Jalen Hurd maturing in the system. Kamara, a former Scout five-star recruit, gives the Vols an added dimension of speed and depth at running back, and DeBord is hopeful the line will be able to do its job long enough for him and Hurd to showcase their electrifying playmaking ability.
“When we talk to our offensive line, we say ‘Guys, all we’ve got to do is get on people and finish blocks, because those guys have great quickness, great speed and finish strong,'” DeBord said. “They’re going to make people miss, so all we’ve got to do is do our job up front and get on people.”
Robert Gillespie didn’t sound too concerned about the stability of the front five. Tennessee’s running backs coach praised the way the line has gelled throughout the year while gaining versatility by having players take on multiple positions.
“Those guys are a year better. Those guys have played together,” Gillespie said. “Those guys have played multiple positions … I think our offensive line has probably had the most chemistry and taken the biggest step, I think, in our offense. That makes it easy for (our running backs), to have guys like that in front of them.”
- Defensive coordinator John Jancek is confident in both Todd Kelly Jr. or Evan Berry filling in the vacant safety spot left by senior LaDarrell McNeil, who is currently dealing with what Butch Jones called "neck instability issues."
"I think both those guys have confidence. They're both really smart," Jancek said. "They know the package, they know the system, they know what the game plan is. We'll let them get out there and compete and I"m pretty sure they'll do a good job for us."
The third-year Vols defensive coordinator said the competition for McNeil's safety spot will "probably" be a game-time decision.
- The decision to start sophomore walk-on Colton Jumper at middle linebacker came due to Jumper's ability to showcase athleticism and dependability throughout fall camp.
"He's really shown a level of consistency that we're looking for at the Mike linebacker position," Jancek said. "He's gotten better each and every day he's been out on the field. He's go the ability to run and really feels comfortable in our package, so he's doing a great job."
John Jancek discusses Bowling Green's fast tempo, more
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