There are plenty of Tennessee football players to keep tabs on during spring practice. Ollie Lane likely isn’t atop most fans’ list.
Sure, it’s more fun to talk about the quarterbacks, the new crew of receivers or a defense with more depth and plenty to prove. However, Lane deserves more than a casual glance. The senior could prove vital for the Vols this season.
I’ve argued that Cooper Mays is the most important non-quarterback on Tennessee’s football team. I’ll stand by that, partly because I’m not really sure what the Vols can get out of Lane if he’s called upon. How far would the drop off be if Mays can’t play at some point this season? It’s worth nothing that Mays missed playing time in 2021 due to injury and has been sidelined briefly during spring practice. That means Lane has had a recent chance to shine with the first team at center and guard, where he’d like to nab a starting spot this fall.
“I definitely believe so,” Lane said when asked if he could be a starter this season. “Every year I’ve been here, I’ve come out with the mindset that there is an opportunity for me to take that starting job. Especially losing (former UT guard) Jerome Carvin this season, I think it’s a big opportunity for me to step up in there. I’ve learned behind a lot of great offensive linemen in my five years, going on my sixth year being here. So, I’ve been able to carry over a lot of stuff.
“I think this year is a big year for me, especially this spring, to be able to start putting everything together, kind of step out as that leader and being able to take that position and solidify it.”
Lane may not be the starter chosen to replace Carvin. Nonetheless, Lane can have a big impact if he’s ever needed to spell Mays. Lane is comfortable with snapping and has seen a ton of practice reps and weight room work since signing with the Vols in 2018. This will be his final year of eligibility after playing for three head coaches.
“Honestly, I still think it’s pretty wild,” Lane said. “I was recruited by Butch Jones way back in the day. I played three years for Jeremy Pruitt, now seeing where we are at from where we were, it’s a night and day difference. The attitude in the complex is completely different. Everybody has a different mindset when they come in here – that it’s time to work. There’s nobody that’s wishy-washy about it, everybody has bought in and it’s a whole new mindset and culture that coach Heupel has done a really good job of, investing in and building that team chemistry with everybody. Like I said, it’s just a night and day difference from what it used to be. “
That’s good to know. However, on a more personal note, just how much better is Lane since current coach Josh Heupel arrived with his uptempo style that can test even the most well-conditioned offensive linemen. If Lane can be a capable backup center, then the Vols don’t have to worry about shifting guards around if something happens to Mays this fall.
“I would like to think that I’m a lot better from the first time that I stepped on the field,” the standout from Gibbs High School in Corryton, Tenn., said. “The 2021 season was the first opportunity that I got to get a large amount of reps in a game and start a couple of games. It was the first opportunity I got out there, so I kind of got a real feel of what a game is like and what it’s like to play against real guys.
“It’s definitely something where I’m taking that 2021 season and growing into 2022 and now 2023. Now, I know game setting, game feel and stuff like that. I’m able to build upon that with better technique, better hands and all of that good stuff to become a better athlete and offensive lineman.”
Lane has a pretty big fight on his hands to secure a starting position or even playing time barring an injury. That’s fine. A distant relative of William Wallace immortalized in the movie “Braveheart,” surrendering isn’t in Lane’s genetic makeup.