While most coaches like to stay status quo on the offensive line, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel is only committed to one thing: change.
There was some head scratching when Heupel moved his most athletic lineman, Darnell Wright, from left tackle to right tackle last offseason, before the 2022 season began. Now, Heupel has done it again and doesn’t appear to be veering off of his new path.
After playing left tackle last season, Jeremiah Crawford and Gerald Mincey are expected to battle for snaps at right tackle. That allows offensive lineman John Campbell, who transferred from Miami, the chance to lay claim to left tackle, a position in which he is more comfortable with.
With all the movement and the departures of Jerome Carvin and Darnell Wright, there aren’t many players with a dependable track record lining up at the same position as last year. Center Cooper Mays is one. Javontez Spraggins, who started 12 games for the Vols last season, is the other. The senior will man the right guard position if all goes as planned. Spraggins was learning last season. Now, he hopes to be more of a teacher.
“As far as the guys that are still here, you want to be the guy that gives another guy the call because he doesn’t know and he’s new,” St. Louis native said. “You want to make sure he’s alright through every play and it’s not a pressure thing. It’s the same feeling, but it’s the want to have that guy next to you to be able to do what the previous guy did. It’s an everyday thing, getting our toes wet.”
Wright may be gone from Spraggins’ right side. However, no one is forgetting the player who dominated most everyone he lined up against last season and could be a first-round selection in April’s NFL Draft. No, Wright’s play and elevation into a top professional prospect has left a lasting impact.
“It was motivation for me last year and the year before that,” Spraggins said of Wright. “As soon as Darnell lined up next to me, I knew that this guy is going to be here and I’m going to give my best effort. So, he can show these guys on film that this right guard is a guy too. From the moment Darnell moved from the left side to the right side, I just had that mentality. I knew he was going to work hard. I’m going to do what this guy next to me is doing. This my dog, and I’m going to try to work harder than him.”
As for Crawford and Mincey? If they want to flourish on the right side of Tennessee’s offensive line, they had better have the same mentality. Wright left a massive void to fill.