Today concludes our ranking of the most important position groups for the Tennessee Volunteers this season. If you’ve checked in this week, these rankings were based on how successful the Vols can be if this position group balls out. If you missed it, the tight ends and the quarterbacks got an honorable mention, while the secondary was ranked as the fifth most important position on Monday. The fourth most important group was the skill position which included the wide receivers and running backs.
Wednesday included the third most important position group which was the linebackers, which features a good mix of upperclassmen and young athletes with a ton of potential. Friday’s featured the defensive line, which was primarily up in the rankings so high because of the possibility of Aubrey Solomon being cleared to play. You probably could’ve guessed the most important position group at the beginning of these rankings, but here it is:
No. 1 – Offensive Line
The offensive line has been a position of question marks for the last few seasons. The Vols have had to deal with an excessive amount of career-ending injuries to offensive lineman during the course of the past five years or so. Since last season, there have been six different offensive lineman retire from football due to an injury of some sort. Those include Nathan Niehaus, the most recent retiree, as well as Melvin McBride, Eric Crosby, Chance Hall, Devante Brooks, and Tanner Antonutti. Although a good number of those guys were not very likely to see the field, the rate that offensive lineman are retiring is at an alarming rate.
Like the defensive line, the offensive line is really depending on one player. If Trey Smith is cleared the play, I believe the complexion of the offensive line changes. Smith has been one of the best offensive linemen in college football during his two years on Rocky Top but during the middle of the season last year, doctors found a re-occurrence of blood clots in his lungs, sidelining him for the rest of the year. The Vols are hoping to see Smith out on the field because of his presence and experience.
The Vols have a number of guys that can fill in for Smith if he ultimately isn’t cleared to play, but it would still be crucial if he could play. Brandon Kennedy returns to the Vols for his senior season. Kennedy transferred from Alabama, starting at center the first game of the year, but ultimately got injured during that game, sidelining him for the entire year.
At guard, Jahmir Johnson and Ryan Johnson have a good chance to see some action. Ryan started in all 12 games last season, including 11 at center after Kennedy’s injury. Jahmir started 11 games and brings a ton of experience. As far as other offensive guards, K’Rohjn Calbert and Jerome Carvin could see some action, as well.
The Vols and National Recruiter of the Year Brian Niedermeyer made sure to beef up the offensive line this offseason when they recruited Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright. As true freshmen, both guys will likely crack the starting lineup, both at tackle. Both guys came into Tennessee as a highly-regarded five-star lineman, so hopefully, they live up to the five-star hype that Smith brought along two seasons ago.
Marcus Tatum will also be a tackle that will likely see some action this season, as well. He appeared in all 12 games last season at some point and started five.
Tennessee also brought in a few other offensive linemen this offseason including guys like Jackson Lampley and Chris Akporoghene.