When training camp started for Tennessee, Butch Jones asked his offensive line to do one thing and one thing only: do lots of things.
The O-line shuffled and switched positions throughout fall camp as Jones and his staff searched for the best starting five to hold down the offensive front, and it looks like the forced versatility has paid off as injuries continue to decimate the unit. At one point, current starting left tackle Kyler Kerbyson played all five positions in the practices leading up to the start of the season. Starting center Coleman Thomas went back and forth from tackle to center, and a host of other young players got meaningful playing time across the line.
Because of that, the O-line has been able to adapt to losing starting left guard Marcus Jackson before the season, as well as guard Jashon Robertson, tackle Brett Kendrick and backup Mack Crowder to various injuries in the middle of the year.
"They've handled it exceptionally well," Jones said of his offensive line. "That's kind of been the focus, our philosophy, since Day One, is really trying to get individuals to see if they can play multiple positions. The players embraced it. They've done a great job with it."
Thomas seamlessly transitioned from tackle to center against Georgia. Freshmen Chance Hall and Jack Jones were thrust into duty as well against the Bulldogs and held down their end of the bargain in a 38-31 win. Dyal Wiesman has flipped guard spots and Crowder has gotten reps at both center and guard in at least one game this season.
"I think it really shows with all the injuries and all the moving parts and pieces, particularly that position group, our players have done a great job of handling it with a lot of confidence right now," Jones said. "They have high expectations of themselves. I think the entire group has done a great job with that because there has been some challenges with that situation."
Cam Sutton will have a familiar face standing opposite of him when Tennessee lines up for its first snap against Kentucky Saturday.
Butch Jones announced Wednesday Martin would make his first start at corner against the Wildcats after a solid performance against Alabama. The junior college transfer had seven tackles and a pass breakup last week against the Crimson Tide and has asserted himself as one of the best corners on the team.
Martin suffered a knee injury in fall camp that limited him early on, but seems to have recovered and will play a big part on the defensive side of the ball in replacing former starting corner Emmaneul Moseley as Tennessee looks to notch its second SEC win against UK.
"He is starting right now," Jones said. "Everything is about competition. Both Emmanuel and Justin had great days of practice yesterday and we need them all. Again, starting is just, we say it all the time, who takes the first rep. Right now, Justin was running with the first team defense yesterday."
Running back Alvin Kamara makes a name for himself in the backfield as a versatile weapon who can run the ball, catch the ball split out wide and return punts. Not only does Kamara have 276 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, but he also is tied for the team lead in receptions with 19 for 152 yards and two scores.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord split Kamara out wide at times against Alabama and the junior delivered, leading all receivers with four catches for 44 yards.
"I do like it," Kamara said of lining up at wideout. "It's kind of funny when I split out there sometimes because the corner will look at me like, 'What is going on' because I'm not a receiver," Kamara said. "Whatever I can do to help the team. Whatever I've got to do: split out, in the backfield, whatever. I'll do that."
Will the speedy running back get the opportunity to do more of that in the coming weeks? Maybe if his talk with DeBord goes over well.
"I could probably get out there and run some routes," Kamara joked. "I might talk to coach [DeBord] about putting me out there and letting me run a go route. I think it is a mismatch. They have to be true to what they are doing as far as showing a man or zone coverage."
Butch Jones updated the injury status of a couple of key players Wednesday heading into his team's SEC Eastern Division clash, including two potential starters on the offensive line. Guard Jashon Robertson practiced Tuesday after missing the Alabama game with an ankle injury and Jones said he anticipates Robertson playing Saturday. Starting right tackle Brett Kendrick has been ruled out for the Kentucky game, as has freshman defensive back Stephen Griffin.
"Brett Kendrick will be out," Jones said. "We anticipate Brett with the possibility of being back next week. Preston Williams (hamstring), we'll know a little bit more as the week progresses. He's supposed to be out at practice (Wednesday), so we'll see how practice goes for him."