It looks like the Tennessee football team will take on Appalachian State with no Chance—as in potential starting right tackle Chance Hall, that is.
That whittles a three-man tackle race down to two almost certain starters with a little less than two weeks remaining until Sept. 1's season opener against the Mountaineers. It now appears redshirt freshman Drew Richmond will play left tackle, and redshirt junior Brett Kendrick will anchor down the right side.
Hall will miss four to six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, UT coach Butch Jones confirmed to the Knoxville News Sentinel's Grant Ramey on Thursday. While he recovers, Hall's situation makes Tennessee's backup battle a little more interesting.
Starting center Coleman Thomas will work some at tackle, Volunteers offensive coordinator Mike DeBord told Ramey. That's where Thomas played as a true freshman a couple of seasons ago. True freshman Marcus Tatum could be thrust into action, too.
Though Thomas struggled on the exterior in his first season, WNML's Jimmy Hyams reported Thomas looked OK at the position with the second team:
Hall's injury causes some consternation at other positions, too, even though the Vols are deep on the inside of the line.
"Senior Dylan Wiesman, a guard last season and backup center in 2014, has worked at center with Thomas during fall camp," Ramey wrote. "Redshirt freshman Venzell Boulware got snaps at center during Thursday's practice."
It also isn't out of the realm of possibility a starting guard from UT's deep interior rotation such as Jashon Robertson could move outside, if needed.
UT having two solid tackles to play is a big deal after a couple of seasons with limited depth, but Hall's injury is a good blow to one of the Volunteers' most shallow positions. Tennessee has stayed relatively injury-free thus far in camp, but this is one where effects will be felt for a while.
The Vols need Hall back by the time the meat of the schedule rolls around, starting with Florida on Sept. 24.
Better news, too
While UT may be scrambling a little to find the five best linemen and the guys who'll fill the next level on the offensive line, their counterparts on the defensive line got a big boost this week.
First of all, sophomore defensive tackle Shy Tuttle—who hasn't seen any game action since a season-ending injury suffered against Georgia last season—continued to do more and more on the practice field.
He broke his leg and endured torn ankle ligaments after a cut block by Bulldogs center Brandon Kublanow, but Tuttle is getting closer to being back. It may be a stretch for Tuttle to be back by the season opener, but at least that isn't out of the question anymore, according to UT's Daily Beacon:
"Encouraged is a good word," UT defensive coordinator Bob Shoop told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan. "He's still got a ways to go. Going in individual drills, then going in practice and team sessions and things like that. I thought (Thursday) was his best day, and clearly we're still 13 days away from the game, so I'm very, very encouraged, as a matter of fact."
That would be massive for a Tennessee team needing impact players on the defensive interior.
While JUCO transfer Alexis Johnson almost certainly won't be able to provide any important snaps for a long while, at least he's back on the practice field. Jones lifted the defensive tackle's suspension this week following a UT student judicial panel ruling that student conduct charges against him were unfounded.
According to SEC Country's Mike Griffith:
Johnson had been suspended from all team activities since February, when he was charged with aggravated assault and false imprisonment of his ex-girlfriend. The false imprisonment charge was dropped in April, at which time the Knox County district attorney also reached a resolution for the assault charge to be reduced from a felony to a to a misdemeanor. Johnson is scheduled back in court on Oct. 10, at which time the assault charge could be dropped altogether.
There's almost no chance Johnson is anywhere close to being conditioned enough to contribute for Tennessee through the first few games of the season, but if he can get his way back into the team's good graces and can prove he can play, Johnson has the ability.
The 6'4", 295-pound lineman was the nation's third-rated JUCO DT.
The next Al?
For nearly two decades, Tennessee has been looking for a defensive leader who struck fear into the hearts of opponents and teammates like former All-American and NFL All-Pro linebacker Al Wilson, whose paint-peeling halftime speeches and holding his peers accountable became legendary.
This week, Shoop invoked Wilson's name when discussing UT junior defensive end Derek Barnett, calling him a "savage" on the field, according to Griffith.
When it comes to leadership on UT's roster, a lot of folks talk about Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton on the defensive side of the ball, but Barnett is perhaps the most vocal. Not only has he been in Shoop's office countless times, he has a team-first mentality, and everybody already knows what he can do on the field.
Having that kind of fiery nature and being able to back it up with his playing ability is a combination that should excite the Vols. It makes his buddies want to play for him, too.
"When Derek says jump, they say 'how high?'" Shoop told Griffith. "He's the Al Wilson on our defense."
Barnett may keep getting snubbed when experts talk about the great SEC defensive ends such as Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, Alabama's Jonathan Allen and Missouri's Charles Harris, but PFF Football's formula graded out Barnett this week better than any of them, something that won't surprise UT fans:
The Vols have enough defensive ends to keep Barnett fresh at all times this year, but he's almost too good to keep off the field. If Barnett has the kind of season he's capable of having, the Vols are going to be tough on that side of the ball.
Biggest commitment so far
This time of year, very few folks are worried too much about recruiting. As fall camp winds down, everybody wants to know about their team's immediate propositions with the season less than two weeks away.
That doesn't make this week's verbal pledge to the Vols any less massive.
Montgomery Bell Academy running back and long-time UT target Ty Chandler chose the Vols this week over Georgia, Ole Miss and several other programs. Then he went out and ran for 226 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-24 loss to Alabama's Hewitt-Trussville.
"Tennessee and Ole Miss, I've been going back and forth between the two. But both those schools have pretty much been the main ones on my mind," Chandler told Callahan. "(I like) the great coaches at Tennessee. I love the atmosphere up there."
Chandler's commitment gives UT its biggest commitment of the 2017 class and fills its biggest need with juniors Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara expected to turn pro following this season. Chandler will team with fellow Vols commit Trey Coleman for the future.
Tennessee is still in the mix for running back Cam Akers, too, though that's a crowded list. Even so, 247Sports founder Shannon Terry tweeted this week to watch out for the Vols in the Akers race:
Getting Akers would be huge, but Chandler's pledge is just as big. Everybody may be watching what Hurd and Kamara do this year—and yes, that's more important right now—but Chandler is a major piece of the future.
The biggest news on the Hill this week was the retirement of athletic director Dave Hart, who is expected to hold his current post until June 2017 when he steps down, a year shy of when his contract expires.
Though there could be plenty of names emerging, some early names that have gained a bit of traction are Chattanooga athletic director and UT alum David Blackburn, Fox NFL analyst and former UT great Charles Davis, former Vols legendary coach Phillip Fulmer and Kansas State athletic director John Currie.
Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart is a former Vol, too. It'll be interesting to see which direction the search goes. But there's no question what Hart meant to UT's football program, according to ESPN.com's Chris Low:
- The hype just keeps on coming for the Vols, who were ranked ninth in the Associated Press college football poll released this week. The only SEC teams ranked higher than UT were Alabama (1) and LSU (5). All eyes will be on Knoxville, where the SEC East race must go through this season.
- Shoop told GoVols247's Callahan a surprising person may wind up backing up Darrin Kirkland Jr. in the middle of Tennessee's defense. Junior walk-on Colton Jumper, who started his UT career with a rough few games a season ago, is backing up Kirkland right now. Shoop also mentioned Gavin Bryant and praised true freshman Daniel Bituli, though he said he had a ways to go in learning the scheme.
- In the race to see which freshman wide receivers fit into the rotation, this week looked like Tyler Byrd and Marquez Callaway took a big step forward. The Vols desperately need some of the first-year targets to be in the mix, and those two look like a safe bet so far.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.