Quotes: Experienced Offensive Line Tooling Up as Week 1 of Fall Camp Comes to a Close

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football wrapped up its first week of fall camp on Thursday morning at Haslam Field with lots of optimism surrounding its experienced and strengthened offensive line.  

With four of the five starting linemen returning from a year ago, the unit is making leaps and bounds. After learning the system, and the tempo, of the offense down solid last year, the men in the trenches are progressing greatly with a year under their belts.

“Progressing fast, this time last year, it’s night and day,” redshirt-junior Dayne Davis said. “Getting more guys in the room up there, getting in the playbook more, knowing their stuff. That way, ball, snap, quick got to know what you’re doing. Defense is going to change right before the snap. Knowing the inside and out of that playbook. I just feel like our O-line group is really tight. I think we’re with each other. Sometimes we battle back and forth but competition is good for the room, and we’ve got a lot of that right now.”

“Once you get used to something, it becomes natural to you,” junior Javontez Spraggins added. “Since last year, the offense has been fast. It’s been fast this year. It’s always going to be fast. We have figured it out, and now we have to run with it. Play ball now.”

The offensive line added a pair of highly-touted newcomers that enrolled early and went through spring practices in Addison Nichols and Brian Grant. This allowed both freshmen to not only to learn the system, but develop both physically and mentally.

With such a deep group, the expectations of offensive line coach Glen Elarbee have grown, and he has seen a response from his group. Accountability and leadership from all corners of the meeting rooms is just an example of the steps the guys are taking to grow.
 
“If you make a silly mistake, that can’t be us—can’t be what we’re about,” Elarbee said when taking the podium. “They all know better, man. They get in the meeting room it sounds like a freaking chorus or something, like the answers of the questions and everybody saying the same word.”

The growth seen by the offensive line has come from more places than just the football field. Cooper Mays is primed to step into the leadership role left by his brother, Cade, thanks largely in part to his experiences with the VOLeaders Academy summer immersion experience in Rwanda.

“Something that I took with me is servant leadership,” Mays said. “They talked about something called ‘leading from the bench.’ Whether you’re the star player, the worst player, in the middle or hurt, it doesn’t really matter where you are. You can always make a difference no matter where you’re at.”

The Running Back Room Gets A Bit Deeper

In addition, Tennessee’s running back room was bolstered on Thursday with the addition of Clemson graduate transfer running back Lyn-J Dixon. The redshirt senior signed his financial aid agreement on Wednesday and went through his first practice on Thursday morning. Dixon, who spent the spring at West Virginia, owns two seasons of remaining eligibility. From 2018-21, the Butler, Georgia, native played in 41 games at Clemson and rushed for 1,420 yards on 218 carries with 13 touchdowns. He played in three games last fall for the Tigers.

Looking to the Weekend

The Vols will have their first off day of fall camp tomorrow before returning to Haslam Field for a shoulder pads practice on Saturday morning. Camp ramps up the next day as the team has its first full-pads practice of the fall on Sunday. 

Offensive Line Coach Glen Elarbee 

On how Gerald MinceyJeremiah Crawford and Dayne Davis are performing at left tackle this fall… 
“They’re all doing well and competing. It was the first day of pads yesterday. I thought they all, including those three, kind of melted a little bit with the heat. They came back today, were flying around and doing well. To say who’s where or what, I couldn’t do that for you if that’s where this sucker’s heading, but they’re competing really, really well.” 
 
On if there is much difference between the left and right tackles in his scheme… 
“Not really, just because of how we protect and the tempo piece of it. There’s not a huge difference at all.” 
 
On if he has a timetable of when he would like to get set at the left tackle position… 
“Typically, you hope that you have a direction after the first scrimmage, and then you kind of solidify after the second scrimmage. Some years, you’re fortunate that it happens before then if there are a bunch of returning guys. Hopefully by the first scrimmage, you have an idea, and then for sure by the second scrimmage, you probably need to know and give those guys a chance to play as many snaps together as they can.” 
 
On the toughness of Cooper Mays and what how he has performed in camp so far… 
“He’s a tough son of gun—both him and his brother. The guy loves the game of football. He loves the physicality part of it, will absolutely throw his body around and is just old school in the fact that you try to tape it up and keep on going. He’s done a great job this camp. I think his offseason was even better than the previous one. I think Coach (Kurt) Schmidt did a great job with him. He’s stronger. He’s able to lift and sit some things down that he wasn’t doing last year. He’s freaking smart, way smarter than his coach.” 
 
On if he is set on having Darnell Wright play on the right side and if it’s unusual for someone to want to switch sides… 
“No, I’m not at all set with Darnell on the right. I think you have to find who the best tackles are and where we can go have the best chance to win. As far as him playing right, it’s as unselfish and team-oriented as anything can possibly be. We had a talk after the season and felt like, to give us a chance, he needed to take some reps at right and see if he’d be able to do that to help guys who had only played left. Without skipping a beat, it wasn’t even like a blink of an eye. He was like, ‘Man, whatever helps us win and helps us be the best.’ I think that’s part of his maturation process. That’s part of him just getting a little bit older and more mature. He’s just a team guy. He talks in the meeting room. He’s taking notes and he’s fun to be around. He had a great day yesterday. He was probably the highlight of yesterday, and I’m hoping it looks just as good today.” 
 
On the progression of Addison Nichols from the spring to fall camp… 
“I think all of the freshmen are a lot different—him for sure. I think the game has slowed down a lot for him. When he makes a mistake, he already knows it versus having to go into the film room, watch it and talk about it. It’s instantaneous. ‘Man, I should have called this or I should have done this.’ Now, the challenge for him is he’s taking a few reps with two’s and starting to move and take some reps at different positions. Handling all of that mentally and the physical part of starting to go against better bodies, the technique has to be a little cleaner. The play has to be a little faster. He’s done a great job. It’s a lot on a freshman.” 
 
On where he is currently playing Nichols on the offensive line… 
“He took reps everywhere during the summer. In fall camp, it’s been center and guard mainly.” 
 
On the overall progression of the offensive line and its confidence… 
“100 percent. Now, the questions in the meeting room are so much different. They see the whole picture. They understand the whole scheme. They can correct one another. They can help young guys. They can be out there, and the defense puts something crazy in for install and on the fly, they’re putting bodies on bodies and doing it really fast. The technique that goes with the play starts to clean up because they know what they’re doing and they’re not having to think as much. It’s just all of those things that happen in the second year. I think two, J.C. (Jeremiah Crawford), Coop (Cooper Mays) and even Spragg (Javontez Spraggins) and Dayne (Davis) are being super vocal. If something’s not the right way, they’re getting it fixed and are just a fun bunch to be around.” 
 
On Masai Reddick and Savion Herring… 
“I think they are both adjusting to the speed of the game right now. Not just the tempo piece of it, it’s just so much faster than what high school and junior college is. They’re both absolutely trying to learn as much as they possibly can all summer through this point. It just takes a little bit of time. I think they’re both doing really, really well for (having) the least amount of experience in the room. Savion is not there right this second, but he’s grinding at it. Both of them, ss long as they keep on the path where day one was this, and then day two was this, and then day three and day four, and they keep slowly building, they’ll be fine by the time we get where we need to be. You can’t hit that lull. I think that’s the toughest part sometimes your first time in college camp: in the middle of it, how you hit that wall and you’re done. They’ve just got to keep grinding.” 
 
On how differently he coaches the returning starters… 
“100 percent, yeah. Especially, if you make a silly mistake, that can’t be us—can’t be who we’re about. They all know better, man. They get in the meeting room it sounds like a freaking chorus or something, like the answers of the questions and everybody saying the same word. The accountability, and if something isn’t right, it definitely pisses you off a whole heck of a lot more.” 
 
On what he looks for in a center… 
“Intelligence has to be up there, just because you’re making decisions so fast. You’re the coach out on the field, because you have to change it on third downs and get us right, and there’s so much involved with that. Obviously, you have to just be unbelievably tough. I think that’s kind of got to be the cornerstone of the offensive line. That guy better be the toughest son of a gun on the field. And then the athletic ability, because we do pull that guy. And then, obviously, as much girth, width, anchor ability as you can possibly get.” 
 
On the offensive line getting more physical… 
“The weight program was different, the way they had to push and strain. Even going against each other during the summer in drills, they were just different. So, it’ll be exciting. Third down’s really kind of around the corner here, third and shorts. We’ll find out. It’s great news, you always do.” 
 
On how comfortable he feels with experience now returning… 
“If you stay healthy, maybe. It’s fun. I love the room. I love walking into it, being around the guys. That sense of comfort knowing where they’re at, and the guys that are getting better—the Lampleys [Jackson Lampley], Ollies [Ollie Lane], Daynes [Dayne Davis], everybody competing and getting better. There’s a level of comfort to a certain extent, but to be honest, probably not, because season’s coming and you’re thinking about all the stuff.” 
 
On Javontez Spraggins… 
“Man, I think his biggest improvement has been protection for sure. He’s always been just a freaking grinder in the run game, but his eyes, knowing where he’s supposed to be, who the ID is, staying in a pass-pro position, not getting out over his toes, and using his hands. Pass protection for sure has been night and day different from last year. He’s put in a lot of time and work to get to that point.” 
 
On if he prefers rotating guys or not… 
“Any time you have depth and you feel comfortable, I mean, it’s awesome. Give guys a breather once or twice a half, let somebody take 20 or 30 snaps a game, maybe even more, or split it, definitely helps. Looking forward to staying healthy and having that ability.” 
 
On Darnell Wright’s improvement from a year ago… 
“I think Darnell’s just growing each day. Just so proud of him. The way he practiced yesterday was just unbelievably physical, the questions that he asked in the meeting room, the attention—you can just see him trying to be different in the way that he focuses, and even things he’s trying to work technique wise. Just not, like on our case, that if we’re not helping him get to a point, man, he wants to get there. He wants extra drill work, he wants extra reps, he wants to work. I think that’s something, I’m not sure, he probably did a little last year, but it’s so pronounced this year. He’s just such an improved player, and I’m just excited for him. I hope he keeps it up and just has a phenomenal year.” 

Junior OL Cooper Mays

On what the key ingredients are to being a good center…
“It kind of depends on your body type and everything, but for me, I like to use my intelligence and athleticism a lot. I think that’s kind of what wins me a lot of my battles. I think if you can get as strong as you can get and then win with your mental game if you’re a smaller guy like me, you’ll be fine.”
 
On how it feels this fall camp to be competing while healthy…
“I think the biggest thing for that is, like I said, in the summer you have to work really hard to build your body up. That will kind of take care of it. It’s been amazing these first few days, honestly. You feel really fresh and springy. You see how it goes in camp and you kind of get camp legs. I’m just trying to stay where I’m at. It’s been a great four days.”
 
On what he learned about himself last season…
“I was helped a lot by the thing on my shirt: VOLeaders Academy. They kind of preached something that I took with me and it’s about servant leadership. They talked about something called ‘leading from the bench.’ Whether you’re the star player, the worst player, in the middle or hurt, it doesn’t really matter where you are. You can always make a difference no matter where you’re at. I think finding my role being in the back more as a teacher and helping out my teammates who were able to play, it was cool to find my spot there.”

RS-Junior OL Dayne Davis

On where the offensive line is at…
“Progressing fast. This time last year, it’s night and day, getting more guys in the room up there, getting in the playbook more, knowing their stuff. That way, ball, snap, quick got to know what you’re doing. Defense is going to change right before the snap. Knowing the inside and out of that playbook. I just feel like our O-line group is really tight. I think we’re with each other. Sometimes we battle back and forth but competition is good for the room, and we’ve got a lot of that right now.”
 
On his confidence in offensive line group as a whole…
“Confidence level is huge. You can tell that by, last year I feel like it was older guys and everybody –  young guys obviously – everybody in the room was having to learn the playbook. It was whoever knew something told the other people. We knew different spots of the playbook. Now these veteran guys, me, Cooper (Mays), Jerome (Carvin), every time we see something, coach Elarbee is always asking us to speak up in the room. If he misses something on tape, for us to speak up in the room. If he misses something on tape, for us to speak up and say, ‘hey right here, tackles if you see this, do this’. I feel like veteran guys, as we know the playbook, we are able to help those guys so much more than what we were because we are so confident and it in return makes those guys more confident. I’m bumping in to right guard, and I have Brian Grant beside me a lot, so being able to help him in game is a lot better than to help him in front of a fan when you are sitting in a cool room. You can do that really easy, but when you get out on field, explaining to those guys, like being at tackle with Masai Reddick at guard. Being able to teach those guys and show them on the field what you are talking about in the room really helps them transfer from the room to the field, so I feel like it’s been great.”
 
On where the most progress on offensive line will be…
“Finishing, to be honest. Finishing late in the play if you want to get individually about play. I feel like sometimes, myself included, late in the play not finishing for that extra two, three yards. I feel like this year, really making a point to finish on the inside of guys, finish up field with guys, push that extra five, six yards to where we make seven, eight yard plays into 10, 12, 14 yard plays and just keep trucking down the field.” 

Junior OL Javontez Spraggins 

On goals for the offensive line and how they can achieve those goals…
“The only thing the offensive line talked about is winning the Joe Moore award. We strain every day to the end of everything. When you get run offense, it’s because you have offensive linemen down the field straining to the end of the play. All that matters is straining, energy and effort.”
 
On his relationship with Cooper Mays
“As far as Cooper Mays goes, he’s almost like my brother. When you come into a place like this and you go away from your family, you have to build new relationships. I built a relationship with my brothers. Not only the offensive line, but everybody in this system.”
 
On getting used to the system and how fast the offense operates…
“Once you get used to something, it becomes natural to you. Since last year, the offense has been fast. It’s been fast this year. It’s always going to be fast. We have figured it out, and now we have to run with it. Play ball now.”

-UT Athletics

Vols OL Javontez Spraggins / Credit: UT Athletics

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