The off-season conversation about Tennessee’s offensive line included some good and bad.
Let’s get the bad out of the way.
Jerome Carvin and Darnell Wright are gone.
Wright was one of the nation’s best offensive tackles last season.
He didn’t allow a sack all season, and his protection against All-American Will Anderson Jr. played a huge role in Tennessee’s win over Alabama.
Carvin started 49 games for Tennessee during his five years on campus.
He was a valuable leader and one of the Vols’ most reliable players.
So replacing Carvin and Wright won’t be easy.
But it won’t be impossible, either.
That’s because Tennessee’s offensive line returns center Cooper Mays and right guard Javontez Spraggins.
Mays is one of Tennessee’s most important players for several reasons.
The media voted Mays third-team All-SEC last week.
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said center is the strongest position of returning players in the SEC.
All-SEC consideration for Mays puts him in elite company.
“What sticks out about Cooper is the toughness,” Nagy said on 99.1 The Sports Animal. “He’s a tough-ass kid. … He has really good awareness at center and (in) pass protection he has really good eyes.
“He can play at the second level. He’s a finisher. He looks like a guy that could eventually start in the (NFL).”
Mays is the perfect guy for Tennessee in the middle of the offensive line.
If Spraggins improves from last year to this fall, he could turn into one of the SEC’s top guards.
ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic, a former Auburn offensive lineman, has praised the way Spraggins plays on several occasions.
Carvin called Spraggins a “wild man” earlier this month during an interview on The Sports Animal.
That was a genuine compliment to Spraggins.
So Tennessee has a strong base on the interior. But what about having to replace top-10 pick Darnell Wright?
Here are two reasons to be optimistic:
- Transfer John Campbell Jr. from Miami brings experience at left tackle. His ability and offensive line coach Glen Elarbee’s mentoring can help solidify the left side
- NFL evaluators have targeted Gerald Mincey as a player to watch this season.
Mincey, a former transfer from Florida, started seven games at left tackle last season.
Nagy said he and NFL executives are intrigued by Mincey’s potential, giving him a mid-round NFL draft grade entering the season.
“He’s long,” Nagy said of Mincey. “He uses his length. And for a guy that hasn’t played a ton … he plays with good patience. So I think he’s a high-upside guy.”
How will Mincey adjust to the move from left to right tackle? Nagy asked the same question.
It worked out for Wright last year and the Vols will hope for a similar result this year.
Is Mincey going to play as well as Wright?
That’s an unfair expectation.
But if Mincey reaches his potential, he can provide winning football for Tennessee.
The final main question that needs to be answered is: who starts at left guard?
That’s where the competition begins.
The Vols have several options, including seniors Ollie Lane and Jackson Lampley, sophomore Addison Nichols, and transfer Andrej Karic.
Lane is the most experienced returning player.
Nichols is a high-upside prospect from the 2022 class. He’s also a top backup option at center.
Karic might be the most intriguing candidate in the race.
He’s a newcomer who played as a tackle and blocking tight end at Texas the last two seasons.
Can Karic do enough in camp to win Tennessee’s left guard job?
The Vols at least know they have legit competition for the position.
As for depth at tackle, seniors Jeremiah Crawford and Dayne Davis provide experience as backup options on either side.
Tennessee’s offensive line has plenty to prove as it tries to replace its top two offensive linemen from last season.
But the attempt to do so might be easier than you think.