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Tennessee is high on ESPN analyst list after studying Vols

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Tennessee’s offensive line should be one of the best in the SEC according to one of the top college football analysts – just as long as the Vols stay healthy.

SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic had some high praise for Tennessee on The Cube Show on YouTube and followed that up with some strong praise about tackle John Campbell, Jr.

“Have a chance to be one of the better groups in the SEC,” Cubelic said during The Dave Hooker show on Thursday. “Obviously, John Campbell is one of the better tackles in all of college football coming back. He has a chance to be the best tackle in the SEC next year.” 

Campbell is expected to play right tackle for the Vols while transfer Lance Heard is set to start at left tackle. Heard started one game and played in several at LSU last season before transferring following his true freshman season.

Is he ready to be an every week starter?

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“I think, fundamentally, he’s got a ways to go,” Cubelic said. “But he’s got all the ability in the world in a monster frame that could be a guy that, from a power perspective, adds a little bit more. Maybe can give you what you had there at tackle a couple years ago.”

Cubelic was, of course, referring to former Vol Darnell Wright who was selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. No Tennessee fan needs to be reminded how important center Cooper Mays will be this season. That was evident by the loss against Florida last season. When Mays is out of the lineup, the Vols don’t have the same flow on offense.

“If Mays is healthy at center, he’s one of the better centers in the SEC,” said Cubelic, who played center at Auburn. 

Cubelic said he was also fond of the Vols’ projected right guard, Javontez Spraggins.

“Now, he needs to cut down on the penalties a little bit, but I love his attitude,” Cubelic said. “I love his demeanor. I love the way he plays the game. I think you’ve got some options at the opposite guard.”

The options, Cubelic pointed out, could be Vol veteran offensive lineman Dayne Davis at left guard. Davis is a veteran who has shown he can play multiple positions. The Vols, however, are expected to depend on Andre Karic at left guard, although that is still to be determined.

“You’ve got four solidified guys that I think I know where they’re going to be and how they’re going to operate,” Cubelic said. “And it gives me a lot of confidence in that group.” 

“And I do think there’s a little more depth. It’s just not a lot of depth in the right places. I think tackle probably is a little bit of a concern and center definitely a concern if you were to lose one of those guys, depending on which one, especially a tackle, it could hurt.”

As for Mays missing any time? That would be bad.

“Just having Mays (is important) because he directs all the traffic,” Cubelic said. “He understands mentally how to handle everything. And physically, he’s a gifted football player. To be able to handle the snaps in an offense like that, be able to make the calls, you gotta make the calls quick in that offense. 

“You don’t have a lot of time just sitting there able to survey things and get people lined up and orchestrate everything. He can manage that very well. So he’s probably as valuable a piece to the offense as anybody other than (quarterback) Nico (Iamaleava).

“Just because of how much is on him, every snap, every series.”

No matter who is on the field, Cubelic feels certain he knows what he’ll see out of the Vols under Josh Heupel, now a known commodity in his fourth season in orange.

“They’re going to have those receiver splits out wide,” Cubelic said. “They’re going to challenge you out wide. And you have to make decisions. I’ve talked to coordinators in this league about that. They have to decide, am I going to keep more numbers out on the perimeter to help in coverage and to help tackle in space?

“Or do I need more guys near the tackle box to be able to assist against the run game? It’s not an easy decision to make for a lot of defenses because of where you’re more talented or where you have more experienced players.”

That will be a much tougher decision to make if the Vols stay healthy. 

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One Response

  1. I agree with you and your opinion on Tennessee staying healthy is always a concern with high power offense but I would like to see more respect for Josh Heupel as a coach he has turned this program around for the best

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