By Jimmy Hyams
HOOVER, Ala. — The general consensus of media experts is that Tennessee’s offense will go as far as the offensive line takes it.
The O-line has been a cause for concern since former quarterback Josh Dobbs masked its weakness with his bambi-like running skills.
Last season, Tennessee ranked last in the SEC in rushing yards per game (129.1), last in yards per carry (3.7) and next-to-last in rushing touchdowns (15).
That’s a primary reason the Vols were 13th in the league in scoring last season.
Help is on the way along the offensive line, as well as bulk. Don’t be surprised if Tennessee starts two true freshmen at tackle – Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright. Center Brandon Kennedy, injured after starting the season opener, is also back.
Ryan Johnson, Jahmir Johnson, K’Rojhn Calbert, Jerome Carvin, Nathan Niehaus and Riley Locklear will likely battle to start at the guard spots.
Head coach Jeremy Pruittt also said the Vols had just two offensive linemen last year that weighed 300 pounds – although last year’s media guide weights listed nine – and now 15 offensive linemen weight at least 300.
One major concern: The health of Trey Smith. He missed the last five games last year due to recurring blood clots around his lungs. His status for this season appears to be doubtful, although Pruitt said Smith is doing everything he can to return.
Will Tennessee’s offensive line be a lot better than last season?
“Absolutely,’’ Pruitt said.
“Experience,’’ Pruitt said.
Most of the returners have some playing experience and will be in their second season under offensive line coach Will Friend. Perhaps more importantly, they’re into their second season under strength coach Craig Fitzgerald.
Still, you have to wonder how efficient the offensive line will be if it starts two freshmen tackles against the likes of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and other flesh-eating defensive lines in the SEC.
“It’s probably a blessing and a course,’’ Pruitt said. “So you possibly have two guys that have the ability to play as freshmen, but then you know you also may have to play them.
“I don’t see that as the case. I think we’ve got some really good guys up front that have worked really hard. There’s going to be lots of competition and whoever the best guys are will play.’’
The best possible option to start at tackle that isn’t a true freshman is redshirt junior Marcus Tatum.