Once again we are back to the traditions of Tennessee football. We have looked at the traditions of Wide Receiver U and this year’s class who are ready to build on that tradition. We have looked at the Running Backs and the long line of solid running backs the Vols have produced over the years. Now it is time to look at a key part of the offense. With out these guys the quarterback would not have time to throw the ball to the receivers, nor would the running backs have anywhere to go when they get the ball in their hands. Yes the trenches are where the battle is won. The Offensive line is of key importance to the offense succeeding over the opposing defense.
Lets take a quick look at history. Seven Vols offensive linemen have been drafted since 2007. Two of them were from this past year when UT only won seven games. Anthony Herrera, a starter for the Minnesota Vikings, went undrafted out of UT. Multiple linemen are starting in the NFL who call the University of Tennessee there college home. Yes Coach Fulmer had a knack for producing good talent at offensive line, including two All-Americans in Michael Munoz and Aaron Sears. But it wasn’t just Fulmer, as the Vols have nine hall of fame offensive linemen they can lay claim to.
However with success comes times of uncertainty. Things looked worrisome for this year, even with freshman All-American right tackle Aaron Douglas returning to anchor the line, because of Fulmer’s lack of high level recruiting at the end of his career and no other returning starters. Now that Douglas and others have since left, due to two coaching changes in two years, that fear has become a legitimate cause for concern. Douglas wants to play TE and has personal issues to take care of so he is moving across the country to Western Arizona Community College to begin achieving these goals. This move has nothing to do with Coach Dooley and both he and his family have said so publicly. However that move leaves the Vols with only two linemen with any playing experience during a game.
Back to this season, the lack of recruiting high level players will be noticed this fall. We have a decent depth but it is far from great and it is very inexperienced. This is a problem for a team breaking in a new quarterback this fall. This years team has the raw talent and upside to be good but they have to grow into it. Bennie Wylie will have the team ready to go physically but mentally it will take time. These guys, with the solid coaching they will receive, will get developed into solid SEC caliber linemen. They are tired of hearing they can’t be good and they aren’t talented and that they suck, so hopefully this will cause them to want to do everything with in their power to prove that wrong this fall.
Things look bleak admittedly but lets look at the stats and see that you don’t have to have the best line to be successful, but you do need to be good and work together as a unit. From 1999-2008 the number of SEC champions with two or less NFL offensive linemen playing on them (guys that got drafted into the league) was 8 of 10. UT has two players who have a good shot at getting into the league in JaWuan James and Dallas Thomas. If you change that stat to the number with four or more NFL offensive linemen playing on them it changes to 0 of 10. However during that same time period SEC championship teams with two or less future NFL skills position players have been 0 of 10. With four or more that number improves to 9 of 10. UT has Jones, Moore, Rogers, Oku, Poole, and Bray who with good seasons during there time at UT could get into the league.
We have the skill positions but is our offensive linemen going to be good enough? Lets take a look at what Coach has to work with. All positions are up for grabs but these are my best guesses at where each lineman will land on the depth chart.
The probable starter in my opinion at left tackle would be sophomore Dallas Thomas. This 6’6″ 290 lbs sophomore out of Baton Rouge, LA has a tough job to fulfill this fall. Thomas will be tasked with blocking defensive pass rush on the quarterbacks blindside. Its a tough position to fill for someone with such little in game experience. Aaron Douglas would be here had he not chosen to leave but as a hard worker with a lot of heart Thomas should do just fine.
Rivals *** 54th OT 26th LA
Scout *** 35th OT
Lining up opposite Dallas Thomas at right tackle will more than likely be the true freshman JaWaun James. This will be the second year in a row that a freshman will start on the offensive line. Listed anywhere from 290-320 lbs, depending on whose website you use, this 6’6″ freshman should be ready to go physically this fall. James comes in as a highly touted recruit and one that it’s said could start 3 years and leave early for the NFL.
Rivals **** 8th OT 55th USA 6th GA
Scout **** 6th OT
Moving inside to the starting left guard position, I believe JerQuari Schofield, 6’6″ 315 lb sophomore from Aiken, SC, will nail down this post. Kiffin recruited Schofield in a pretty intense battle with in state school Clemson. Recruited as a tackle Schofield has grown into the guard position and should be a solid performer on the field this fall.
Rivals **** 20th OT 11th SC
Scout *** 31st OT
Opposite Schofield at Right Guard will probably be Senior Jarrod Shaw. At 6’4″ and 324 lbs this guy is extremely important because of his leadership and the fact that he and he alone has any SEC experience on the line. Shaw needs to become a role model for these young linemen and help them learn their positions this fall. His size and skill should be a valued asset this fall.
Rivals *** 63rd DT
These four players have pretty much nailed down he starting guard and tackle positions in my mind, but the race at center has not produced any promise as of yet. With the two returning players that are vying for the position, mechanics were an issue so Dooley has brought in a junior college center to either start competition, assist the eventual starter to learn the position, or to start this fall. Here are the Vols three options at center.
Junior Cody Pope has played under all three coaching staffs this decade and spent time providing depth at all five offensive line positions. Hailing from Julian, CA this 6’6″ 288 lb vegetarian has seemingly found a home at center. After spring practice I think he holds a slight edge over converted DT Victor Thomas. Both have struggled with shot gun snapping. With Coach Heistand’s help Pope should be ready to go this fall with the first or second team.
Rivals *** 47th OT 85th CA
Scout **** 44th OL
Senior Victor Thomas also is competing for the starting center position this spring but having to learn the offensive side of the ball, how to snap, and being injured in the spring game (he is fine now) have all hindered his hope of starting this fall. With a good fall camp he could possibly overcome this but it will be difficult. Originally recruited as a Defensive End, Thomas put on weight and was moved inside to provide depth at Defensive tackle. Now he has switched again and the only role I see him playing is back up, which is unfortunate for this 6’4″ 286 lb Olive Branch, MS product.
Rivals *** 37th DE 16th MS
Scout *** 57th DE
The third candidate and the one I think will be starting by mid season if not sooner is 6’3″ 305 lb juco center Darin Gooch. He is from Reno, NV but played at Butte Community College in Oroville, CA. If I am not mistaken he has four years to play three and is a great infusion of size and even a little experience into the line. Having signed less than a month ago this is a great pick up for Dooley for this fall. If he can get into SEC shape, and don’t worry coach Wylie will be sure of that, and learn the offense Gooch has the chance to be the Vols center of the future.
As we continue to work our way out through the second and third teams lets take a look at back up guards. Incoming Freshman Zach Fulton has a lot of hype after appearing at the Orange & White game in great physical shape. His Dad and him have been training hard since National Signing Day and studying the play book so that Zach will be ready physically and mentally. This 6’4″ 306 lb beast from Illinois has the most upside out of anyone on the line other than perhaps James and Stone, who are also freshman.
Rivals *** 14th OG 11th IL
Scout *** 14th OG
The other guard spot should be filled by heavily recruited James Stone from Nashville. Considered a lock to Alabama before Dooley came in this 6’5″ 298 lb lineman should be ready to get playing time this fall. Stone came to Tennessee because of Dooley’s character and he made a good decision.
Rivals **** 7th OG 4th TN
Scout *** 32nd OT
At third string guard we have sophomores Kevin Revis from Evansville, TN and Carson Anderson from Florence, AL. Anderson is a 6’2″ 270 lb redshirt sophomore who was viewed as a diamond in the rough by Fulmer’s last staff.
Rivals ** OG
Rivals *** 11th OC 16th TN
Scout *** 38th OG
Rivals *** 49th OT 16th SC
Scout *** 80th OT
Hometown kid Daniel Hood from Catholic also will back up at tackle. This 6’5″ 270 lb kid has had legal trouble in the past but Kiffin brought him with the understanding that he is a changed man. Dooley will surely make sure that this is true with his character building programs. Hood should be a good back up and with hard work could provide serious minutes this fall in the event of a injury.
Rivals *** 10th TN 35th OT
Scout *** TE
Finally the Vols also have two hometown walk on players to work with. From Halls, 6’5″ 272 lb OT Caleb Leonard and from South Doyle 6’3″ 310 lb OT Chase Phillips.
So in my mind this is how the depth chart plays out this fall.
1. Darin Gooch
2. Cody Pope
3. Victor Thomas
1. Jarrod Shaw
1. JerQuari Schofield
2. James Stone
2. Zach Fulton
3. Kevin Revis
3. Carson Anderson
4. Chase Phillips
1. Juwuan James
1. Dallas Thomas
2. Marques Pair
2. Daniel Hood
3. Caleb Leonard
We have depth, although not to the extent we would prefer, but it is inexperienced. Luckily for the Vols only Jarrod Shaw and Victor Thomas are the only seniors so the Vol’s offensive line future with solid recruiting looks bright. However for this yer luckily we have one of the best coaching for us and another one coordinating. Chaney spent the majority of his time at Purdue coaching the line while coordinating the offense and did so here last season before allowing Cregg to take over the full line. However he will only be assisting this year as talented and fully capable coach Harry Heistand is now on board for the Vols.
Heistand has coached for the past 28 years, 23 in college and 5 in the NFL, before arriving on Rocky Top this season. During his time at Illinois (1997-2004) he produced 10 All-Big 10 selections and 7 NFL draft Selections. During his time at the Chicago Bears his linemen were durable and consistent as the bears were only one of six teams who had all five linemen start for all 16 regular season games.
His predecessor did a great job but has only been a coach for 13 years and UT was his first BCS college job. He was in NFL for 1 season with Kiffin but thats it. Aaron Douglas is his claim to fame and we see what that has turned out as now. Now at USC Cregg has deal with probation. The Vols are better off with out him and will in my opinion produce better linemen year in and year out.
Tommorrow- my take on the realignment that has taken place
Saturday- QB 2010 review
Sunday/Monday- Recruiting update