The NIL portal had an early impact on Tennessee’s offensive line on Monday. However, the future of the Vols’ offensive front is still very much in question.
Let’s start with what the Vols gained via a lack of departures. Offensive tackle John Campbell Jr., announced he would return to Tennessee for another season. The Miami transfer manned the left tackle position for the majority of the 2023 regular season. Campbell may not be great, but he’s certainly serviceable. Pro Football Focus awarded him a 59.5 grade for the season, but was better at pass blocking, in which he received a 72.8 grade from PFF.
Starting left guard Ollie Lane is out of eligibility so the Vols need someone to play alongside Campbell to his inside right. Andrej Karic would figure to fill in at left guard next season as he did when Lane had to replace Cooper Mays at center. Karic was less than stellar during his time at left guard, but still managed a 59.0 grade during the regular season. As for the right side of the offensive line, the Vols should be a bit better if the transfer portal dominos fall their way.
Javontez Spraggins suffered a season-ending injury this past year but indicated he could return in 2024 during a speaking engagement at the Knoxville Quarterback Club shortly after his injury.
“I got one more left in me,” Spraggins said Monday during the appearance. “I had a great year and a minor setback that I’ve got to get over, I’m having surgery tomorrow.”
In an odd twist, Spraggins’ injury could keep him in orange and white.
“Other than the setback, man, I was looking forward to the draft. We got to see how fast this heals before we make some decisions on that.”
Spraggins was Tennessee’s highest-rated offensive lineman according to Pro Football Focus last season with a 67.9 grade. At right tackle, the Vols depended on Gerald Mincey to replace first-round NFL Draft pick Darnell Wright. Mincey ended the 2023 regular season with a 60.6 grade and is expected to return for 2024 – until further notice.
The key to Tennessee having a formidable starting offensive line in 2024? Center Cooper Mays has to return for another season. Mays has told Off The Hook Sports that he’s weighing his options and did not participate in senior day activities. At this time, Mays seems likely to return to Tennessee for another season, but that is far from certain.
As Tennessee fans learned last season, five offensive linemen isn’t enough. Mays missed time early in the season with an abdominal injury that likely cost the Vols a win against Florida in September. So where do the Vols go for depth? That remains to be seen.
Tennessee backup offensive lineman Addison Nichols announced he would enter the transfer portal on Monday. Moreover, Nichols doesn’t seem to be testing the waters; he seems intent on leaving Tennessee per his post on social media:
Nichols was a highly rated prospect when he signed with the Vols in 2022 and posted a 61.3 rating per Pro Football Focus. That stacks up well against the Vols’ top offensive linemen. However, it’s important to note that Nichols was usually matched up against back-up defensive linemen considering he was rarely depended on to play with the first-team. However, there’s no arguing he could have helped the Vols from a depth standpoint in 2024, which was a major problem during the regular season this year.
The Vols have lost Jeremiah Crawford from last season since he is out of eligibility. Crawford could be tough to replace as he was able to play several positions along the Vols’ offensive line. However, his 49.3 rating from Pro Football Focus was the lowest among Tennessee offensive linemen that were graded.
Dayne Davis and Jackson Lampley could return for another season. Both received extensive playing time on the interior of the Vols’ offensive line when injuries set in. Lampley and Davis received a 62.7 and a 59.9 grade from Pro Football Focus, respectively.
So what will the Vols look like when they take the field next season on the offensive line? The answer to that question depends on Mays’ potential return and the Vols’ ability to stay healthy.