Razor thin

With four seniors due to start Saturday's opener, Tennessee's offensive line has tons of maturity ... but mere ounces of depth.

Now that Josh McNeil is out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury and Cody Sullins is entrenched as the first-team center, the Vols have no proven backups. That means the five starters may have to play virtually every snap some Saturdays.

Are they concerned? Nope.

"We've known all camp that we've had the least depth on the team but we're not too worried about it," senior guard Vladimir Richard said.

So, he's ready to play 70 snaps if necessary?

"Oh, yeah. I'm ready, man," he said. "This is the SEC. I'm ready to play 100 snaps if I have to. Whatever it's going to take to win. This is my final season and the first year of the Coach (Lane) Kiffin era, so we're just excited to go out here and play.

"How many snaps we have to play really don't matter, as long as we can do whatever we have to do to get the win."

The loss of McNeil leaves UT with only three offensive linemen who have seen meaningful action in a college game - Richard (6 starts), right guard Jacques McClendon (13 starts) and left tackle Chris Scott (26 starts).

Sullins will start at center, even though he has seen just five games of mop-up duty in four previous years on campus. The right tackle will be either redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas or junior Jarrod Shaw. Neither has proven himself in a competitive game. The same goes for the key backups - sophomore Cody Pope, senior Cory Sullins (Cody's twin brother), sophomore William Brimfield and redshirt freshman Dallas Thomas.

Because there is virtually no depth on the offensive line, the offensive staff is planning very little substituting Saturday vs. Western Kentucky.

"We won't rotate there like we would on the defensive line," Kiffin said. "We may rotate the two right tackles (Douglas and Shaw) a little bit but the other four guys are going to go and we're going to keep playing 'em. We do have confidence in a number of the backups but we will not rotate them like the defensive line."

Obviously, another injury could cripple the blocking front. The blockers don't seem to be worried about such things, though.

"We've been working hard and we've gotten some little nicks and stuff but there's nothing major," Richard said. "We're just ready to go out here and play. We're not even thinking about injuries or anyone going down. Right now we all feel good. We're all healthy and strong and we're ready to get out here every Saturday and play."

Obviously, the staff would be thrilled if some of the younger linemen - redshirt freshman Carson Anderson, plus true freshmen JerQuari Schofield, Kevin Revis and Daniel Hood - developed quickly enough to provide some help this fall.

"Some of the young guys are coming along, and that's going to be key for us," Richard said. "They still have a ways to go but they're showing improvement and working hard every day in practice."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories