Top centers, picks 1-5

Quality centers are hard to find. So, when you find one, you leave him there until he runs out of eligibility. That's what I discovered while researching the top Vol centers of 1964-2004. Many of the better guys started for three years. Two of them (Scott Wells, Jeff Smith) started for four years.

What follows is my take on the five best UT centers of the 40-year time span mentioned above:

5. JEFF SMITH: A four-year starter, this Decatur native played right guard in 1992 and '93, center in '94 and '95. Tabbed All-SEC as a senior, he was a seventh-round NFL Draft pick who spent seven years in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

4. ROBERT SHAW: A three-year starter ('76, '77, '78) and two-year All-SEC selection ('77 and '78), Shaw was voted a team captain as a senior. Following his final season he was a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1979 NFL Draft. He spent four years with the Cowboys before injuries ended his career.

3. TREY TEAGUE: After starting at left tackle in 1996, he graciously accepted a move to center in '97, even though it reduced his value in the eyes of pro scouts. The Jackson native did such a good job snapping the ball to Peyton Manning that he earned All-SEC recognition in his only season at center. A seventh-round NFL Draft pick in ‘98, Teague enters his ninth pro season as a New York Jet, after spending the previous eight with the Broncos and Bills.

2. CHIP KELL: One of only four two-time consensus All-Americans from UT (receiver Larry Seivers, linebacker Steve Kiner and defensive tackle John Henderson were the others), Kell made the grade in 1969 and '70. He also won the Jacobs Award as the SEC's premier blocker each of those seasons. Kell started at center in '68, at guard in '69 and '70. Thanks to amazing heft and a 500-pound bench press, he was a dominating player at the collegiate level. He recently was selected for induction into the College Hall of Fame.

1.BOB JOHNSON: How many other centers have placed sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting? That's what this Cleveland native did in 1967. A three-year starter (1965-67), he captained the Vols in his final season. Tabbed All-SEC as a junior and senior, he won the league's Jacobs Award as a senior. After making Football News All-America in ‘66, he was a consensus All-American in '67. The second player picked in the 1968 AFL Draft, Johnson spent 11 distinguished years with the Cincinnati Bengals. He was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 1989.


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