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Tennessee OL Lance Heard nailing down spot for Vols at LT

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There is no easy way to make the adjustment from high school football star to dependable college offensive tackle. It takes talent, hard work and grit. While Tennessee offensive tackle Lance Heard seems to have all of those intangibles, he also seems to have one other attribute that is much easier to measure: experience.

Heard, who transferred from LSU following last season, played in every game for the Tigers in 2023 and started one when called upon. That’s not easy for a freshman to pull off in any conference and nearly impossible in the SEC. Now, Heard is the big man on campus in Knoxville, rather than Baton Rouge. So far, things are going well for the 6-foot-6, 335-pound man who is slated to play left tackle for the Vols this fall.

“I think he’s adjusting really, really well,” Tennessee offensive line coach Glen Ellarbee said. “He’s done it the right way: stayed quiet, learned and interjects when he needs to. He has flashed (great athleticism) and some really good bright spots. He’s still young, and we’re still working on some things technique-wise, but man, he comes to work every single day. 

The room loves him. When you have to jump in and go at the tempo piece of it, sometimes there’s a little bit of an adjustment. I think he’s right on schedule, right where he needs to be. I’m enjoying getting to walk in every day and see his face in the meeting room.”

Players that have been in an offense coached by Josh Heupel will tell you that the up-tempo style can be a massive adjustment when a player first arrives on campus and begins to take part in practice. It doesn’t help that Heard is a Sunsphere-type of big. However, he’s managing, especially thanks to his physical ability. That helps him overcome a drop in energy.

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“The guy has unbelievable length and natural ability,” Ellarbee said. “So, protecting the passer is going to be a big improvement, and he’s just a big human.”

That big humanity is going to help Heard move some offensive linemen out of the way when the Vols decide to keep the ball on the ground. Ellarbee even went so far as to say that Heard may have the same kind of impact that first-found NFL pick Darnell Wright had on the Vols’ running game when he was Tennessee’s starting right tackle in 2022.

“I feel like Lance is going to have that ability too,” Ellarbee said. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily the offense. He got to LSU in the summer and had to play in the fall. He’s really just going through his first offseason. So, some of the intricacies of just learning the game inside and out, he knows it, but experience and reps just build that bank of what’s going on and how to adjust to certain situations. I think that’s just part of his growth and development.”

Said Heard when asked about Elarbee, “He’s a great guy. He’s very knowledgeable, and I feel like I can learn a lot of ball from him. It’s been great practicing and getting to know Coach Elarbee.”

There never seemed to be any doubt that Heard would take over at left tackle, which meant John Campbell Jr., was moved to right tackle during the offseason. Sometimes concessions must be made for a player who has already shown he can play, contribute and, perhaps, dominate at the SEC level.

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