KNOXVILLE — With four returnees boasting significant starting experience in the Southeastern Conference, the Tennessee offensive line appears to be one of the greatest strengths for the team this season.
Assuming, that is, that those four remain healthy.
Given the physically rigorous style of play in the SEC, it’s farfetched to expect that Josh McNeil, Jacques McClendon, Vladimir Richard and Chris Scott all will go through the 2009 season unscathed.
That means several of the untested linemen below them on the depth chart will be pressed into service.
That’s certain to be the case at right tackle, where Jarrod Shaw and Aaron Douglas currently are fighting for the starting job.
Shaw emerged as the starter at right tackle midway through spring practice, but soon thereafter, he had some humbling moments defending the pass rush during one major scrimmage.
At 6-foot-4 and 332 pounds, Shaw fits the conventional mold of an offensive tackle in major college football. The Vols, however, have adopted a zone blocking scheme for their running game, which emphasizes athleticism, footwork and the ability to go make blocks on the second level.
Thus, the opportunity exists for Aaron Douglas (6-6, 282), a former TSSAA Mr. Football tight end who made the position move to tackle this spring. Douglas’ father, David, also played the position for the Vols. Despite the recent shift, the younger Douglas could contend for a starting job as preseason camp begins.
The other four starting positions are much more definite.
Since his fourth game as a redshirt freshman against Memphis in 2006, McNeil (6-4, 280) has been Tennessee’s starting center. His 35 consecutive starts comprise the longest streak for any current Vol.
Scott (6-5, 346) has two full seasons’ experience as a starter—one at guard and one at tackle. He returns this season as the incumbent at left tackle.
At guard, senior starters Vladimir Richard (6-4, 300) and Jacques McClendon (6-3, 324) return.
Richard has staked his reputation as a fearsome run blocker. McClendon has been a regular contributor for the Vols since he was a true freshman in 2006. Former walk-on Cody Sullins challenged for McNeil’s job this spring. Sullins got the majority of the reps with the first team during the Orange and White game, but it still would be a surprise to see him start the Sept. 5 season opener against Western Kentucky.
Cody Pope (6-6, 288), a third-year sophomore, played tackle and guard this spring and could be needed as a key reserve at both spots over the course of the 2009 campaign.
Injuries limited redshirt sophomore William Brimfield (6-5, 346) this spring, likely putting him behind the other candidates at tackle as fall camp gets underway.
At 6-5 and 268 pounds, tackle Dallas Thomas fits the physical definition of what the Vols want out of their offensive linemen in the zone-blocking scheme.
Redshirt freshman Carson Anderson (6-2, 267), the current third-team center, probably would not play unless there was an emergency. But Anderson earned first-team all-state honors in Alabama as a high school senior.
Cory Sullins (6-1, 270), Cody’s twin brother, provides depth at guard.
Three newcomers enter the fold next week when fall camp begins, including Kingsport native Daniel Hood (6-5, 255).
The signing of Hood, who was convicted of kidnapping and aggravated rape as a juvenile, sparked a nationwide controversy. Though Hood was a Mr. Football tight end at Knoxville Catholic, manpower issues probably necessitate Hood playing on the offensive line.
The two other incoming freshmen, Kevin Revis and JerQuari Schofield, were among those prospects who committed under Phillip Fulmer and chose to stick around despite the coaching change.
Revis (6-4, 265) was considered one of the top 20 prospects in the state. He’s a possibility at center or guard. Rivals.com ranked Schofield (6-6, 315) as the No. 20 offensive tackle prospect in the country.
See how the Vols’ offensive line backs up against the rest of the SEC at John Moorehouse’s “Orange Clockwork” blog at www.timesnews.net.