This just in: Tennessee’s spring football game did not scare Georgia State.
The Panthers, four and a half months away as the first foe for the Volunteers, have already heard about Tennessee’s new offensive line. It looks a lot like 2018.
On Saturday, out in public for the first time, it struggled to protect Jarrett Guarantano. It generally failed to produce running room. It had trouble blocking Emmit Gooden and Aubrey Solomon. Mathew Butler, Theo Jackson and Nigel Warrior came free on blitzes.
Best back Ty Chandler gained 32 yards. Tim Jordan had 39. That says there were no long runs.
Guarantano was OK. He was named MVP. He threw for something like 200 yards and four touchdowns. Jauan Jennings caught two: one a muscle job, the other wide open. Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer contributed colorful moments to pass-catch statistics.
Palmer was judged the most improved offensive player of the spring. Linebacker Daniel Bituli was honored with the Andy Spiva Award as the most improved defender.
Actually, it was an interesting and entertaining early evening. The stadium, all dressed up, looked sharp. It didn’t rain. The cheerful crowd was maybe 40,000, about like last year. As is the custom, some thought they had better things to do and went away at halftime. They missed two interceptions by freshman defensive back Jaylen McCollough. The former high school running back looked very smart on a 32-yard return.
Shanon Reid looked like a starting linebacker. He made 10 tackles.
Freshman tight end Jackson Lowe looked like a good investment for the future. He had three catches and ran aggressively for 60 yards. Along the way, he learned a valuable lesson about possession. Defensive back Brandon Davis was beaten on one of the plays. Instead of giving up and feeling sorry for himself, he pursued Lowe, knocked the ball loose and jumped all over the fumble.
I’m guessing freshman Wanya Morris has won or will win an offensive tackle job. I’m guessing five-star Darnell Wright, America’s top tackle recruit, will become Wanya’s running mate. All he has to do in August is match what Morris did in March and April.
The Southeastern Conference is not a pretty little playpen for beginning offensive linemen, but Tennessee really does need the infusion of size and strength. Mistakes may be tolerable if made moving forward.
Jeremy Pruitt, after the scrimmage, had a lot to say about offensive line play.
“I think we’ve really got to shore up our offensive line, up front. We’ve got to be able to run the football to have success in this league. We need to play with a little lower pad level. And we’ve got to play with a little better body language.
“We’ve got some guys who didn’t participate today. We’ve got some guys that are coming in. So we’ve got to create a lot of competition. Up front we need to improve.”
Note to line coach Will Friend: This is serious.
The coach said what fans saw was similar to what he observed all spring. He talked about learning to compete harder, about becoming better finishers.
He suggested offensive linemen look in the mirror and challenge themselves, then go to work and try to improve on their own. He said they have 12 weeks to push blocking sleds all over practice fields.
Those who care the most will probably try to get bigger and stronger.
The script says Year 2 for a new coaching group is when the team shows considerable progress. Talent level is somewhat better than when Pruitt and his people cashed their first Tennessee checks.
Pruitt has said several times that the Volunteers have been working at getting better. That is good. But, Tennessee does not play in a try-hard league. The SEC is the do-good league. Effort is worthy of applause. Results count.
(Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)