If you needed anymore proof that Tennessee coach Josh Heupel is ahead of the curve, here’s more.
Heupel defied all traditional knowledge before the season began and took his best offensive tackle and moved him from left tackle to right tackle. The move was a bit curious at the time. However, it now looks like a move that only a genius would make. Why? Everyone is blossoming.
Tennessee senior Darnell Wright started every game at left tackle in 2021 for the Vols and excelled at protecting quarterback Hendon Hooker’s blindside. The easiest thing to do was keep him at left tackle and be happy with a known commodity. Heupel didn’t do that. Heupel made the move for a couple of reasons. First, he believed in his and his staff’s judgement to make a bold move. However, there’s more.
Heupel knew he needed two offensive tackles that could block SEC defensive ends on their own without much help since the Vols prefer to utilize their tight ends as receivers instead of blockers. He also knew that Wright is likely the best athletic, big man on the team. Heupel knew Wright could make the move. It has worked wonders. Shifting his footwork wasn’t much of a challenge for Wright. He’s that good of a natural athlete. Now, he’s on the verge of winning top offensive linemen awards while the other side is doing quite well on its own.
Let’s take a look at that left side for a moment. The Vols have utilized two players at that position: Jeremiah Crawford and Gerald Mincey. Both have been a part of an offensive line that ranks fifth in rushing yards per game in the SEC and has allowed just 1.63 sacks per game, which is sixth best in the SEC. That’s pretty incredible considering where the Vols were just a season ago when they allowed 3.39 sacks per game, which was last in the SEC.
Best of all, Heupel can use the Wright move as a recruiting tool. Wright is better suited to play right tackle in the NFL because he’s a great run blocker. So, in a move that had many scratching their heads, Heupel solidified two positions and made Wright a huge pile of money.
That may not be quite as scintillating as a deep touchdown pass, but those passes don’t happen without great pass protection. Heupel built that in an offseason that should be remembered for one incredibly bold move.