Tennessee football line play crucial, but another position is more important

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Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt is settling into a closer evaluation of his returning talent with spring drills fast approaching.

The Vols announced Tuesday that their spring session will start on Tuesday, March 20, leading up to the annual Orange and White spring scrimmage at 2 p.m. April 21.

Tennessee had 23 players miss the spring scrimmage last season because of injuries. The Vols struggled to stay healthy through the entire season.

RELATED: Tennessee football injuries, what Jeremy Pruitt said about them

New strength coach

Pruitt made hiring a new strength coach a top priority, and former Houston Texans strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald is paid like it.

RELATED: Tennessee releases football coaching salaries

Fitzgerald has a three-year contract that pays him $625,000 annually — a figure that last season would have reportedly ranked second in the nation among his peers.

New offensive style

Pruitt’s version of Tennessee football is expected to look more conventional than recent teams on offense, with a pro-style attack featuring the quarterback under center.

RELATED: Tennessee football reveals new offensive plan of attack

Offensive coordinator Ty Helton said the Vols will feature a physical run game, but also will stretch the field with deep passes.

Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer, who hired Pruitt on Dec. 7, said he believes the new football coach will work the schemes around the available talent.

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Both sides of the line of scrimmage are pivotal to Tennessee’s success, as the last two seasons have demonstrated with injuries derailing the Vols’ title hopes in 2016 and red-zone efficiency in 2017.

RELATED: Tennessee football need positions under microscope

Sophomore offensive linemen Trey Smith and Ryan Johnson look to lead a young line where depth is a question. Only 11 scholarship players are in the group.

Pruitt hinted that there could be some defensive linemen moving over to offense this season.

My expectation for the offensive line is that it will be adequate for what Pruitt wants to do, provided there are no major injuries this offseason.

The defensive line has plenty of depth with 18 scholarship players, but perhaps not the sort of players needed to effectively run a 3-down (two-gap) front.

Pruitt has said he will run multiple fronts, working with the talent he has and adjusting for each opponent.

Quarterbacks key

As for quarterback development, that is indeed another key question, as returning scholarship players Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride were recruited to play in more of a spread system. Incoming freshman JT Shrout arrives in June.

RELATED: Tennessee football QB position appears wide open

Tennessee figures to be adequate or slightly above average in the trenches, but ultimately will go only as far as the quarterback position takes them.

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