Tennessee Football: Why Vols Won't Miss Tiny Richardson Too Much in 2014

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2013

August 31, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tennessee Volunteers offensive linesman Antonio Richardson (74) celebrates in the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at the Georgia Dome. Tennessee beat NC State 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee coach Butch Jones will have a difficult time replacing a player as talented as Tiny Richardson at left offensive tackle next season, but finding a better schematic fit won't be insurmountable.

When Richardson announced last week via UTSports.com that he would forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft, the news was expected. The 6'6", 327-pound offensive lineman's decision means UT must replace its entire front five next year.

A new-look Vols offensive line might not be such a bad thing, though.

Make no mistake, returning a player of Richardson's ilk from a sheer talent perspective would have been a big building block for the 2014 season. Replacing him won't be easy.

But there are various reasons why starting over on the offensive front can be a blessing more than a curse.

The most logical argument for incorporating new blood is none of this year's Vols starters—seniors Ja'Wuan James, Zach Fulton, James Stone and Alex Bullard, along with Richardson—were recruited to block for a spread offense.

Zone-blocking concepts require a specific type of lineman with agility and athleticism. Tennessee's group of linemen weren't prototypes for this offense, which is why UT line coach Don Mahoney estimated they lost 80 combined pounds prior to the season, according to the Associated Press' Steve Megargee.

That means UT's vaunted linemen had to adjust to new bodies, which isn't an easy task for big guys. The linemen—Richardson included—were at their best when they were running man-blocking schemes, particularly in 2012 under current Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman.

Richardson is a prototypical strength-based road-grader.

While he had some success getting to the edge and blocking outside, that really isn't where he excels, especially considering he has been battling a microfracture in his knee.

The injury likely played a major role in Richardson's decision to leave for the NFL. While he was known as a very athletic lineman coming out of high school, the knee issues hurt his athletic ability and negatively affected his play this year.

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 19: Antonio Richardson #74 and Malik Brown #90 of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrate after the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Neyland Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won 23-21. (Photo by
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Also, for all the talking he did this season, guaranteeing wins over Missouri and Vanderbilt, Richardson's play fell short.

With the national spotlight on him against South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney, Richardson struggled, according to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. After that game, Richardson was plagued with penalties and inconsistency, and it wound up being a disappointing season overall.

Despite the subpar year, Goodbread still likes Richardson as a prospect.

Either his knee really bothered him more than he let on or he just wasn't a great fit for blocking in Jones' offense.

Getting more athleticism at the position is a must moving forward.

The Vols will welcome junior college tackle Dontavius Blair, who is expected to step in at left tackle to replace Richardson. Junior Kyler Kerbyson, incoming freshman Coleman Thomas and others will battle for that other tackle spot.

Inside, UT should be in pretty good shape with guards Marcus Jackson, Dylan Wiesman and center Mack Crowder.

None of those guys has started consistently on this level. Had Richardson stuck around, they all may have expected a player of that caliber to carry them and make up for their mistakes.

Nov 30, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half at Commonwealth Stadium. Tennessee defeated Kentucky 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Without that luxury now, leadership will be a point of emphasis for Mahoney, who can mold an offensive line that better suits this style.

Finally, nobody wants to talk about it at Tennessee, but a losing culture had permeated the program prior to the hiring of Jones.

As much press as the offensive linemen have gotten over the course of their careers, they've underachieved. Fair or not, Richardson is included in that group. So while losing him is a major blow, it's not like it's crushing the fanbase.

Richardson will always be loved by UT fans. He was a highly recruited in-state player who elected to stay home rather than attend Alabama, Georgia or others. He always spoke his mind, played with a chip on his shoulder and garnered some accolades along the way.

Losing him is going to be tough. But his departure isn't a crippling blow to an offense that is going to have new faces all over it, anyway.

Jones is attempting to flip the roster as quickly as possible, get as many of the guys he recruited in there and change the overall mentality of the program. The Vols will be young in 2014, but they'll also be more talented—even with Tiny playing on Sundays.


    Toledo Deletes Tweet Saying They'd Change Mascot to Shrek

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Toledo Deletes Tweet Saying They'd Change Mascot to Shrek

    Adam Wells
    via Bleacher Report

    Top 10 Winners from Vols Spring Practice

    Tennessee Volunteers Football logo
    Tennessee Volunteers Football

    Top 10 Winners from Vols Spring Practice

    All for Tennessee
    via All for Tennessee

    Pruitt Has to Earn This Nick Saban Impersonation

    Tennessee Volunteers Football logo
    Tennessee Volunteers Football

    Pruitt Has to Earn This Nick Saban Impersonation

    Joe Rexrode
    via The Tennessean

    Swinney Wouldn’t Mind Rekindling Rivalry with UGA

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Swinney Wouldn’t Mind Rekindling Rivalry with UGA

    via The Clemson Insider