KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Redshirt freshman Drew Richmond can finally show what all the hype was about when he takes the field as Tennessee’s starting left tackle in Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. season opener against Appalachian State.
The former Memphis University prep 5-star prospect (Rivals.com) came to UT in 2015 ranked the No. 3 offensive tackle in the nation (247Sports) with visions of starting immediately.
Instead, Coach Butch Jones redshirted the 6-foot-5, 301-pounder, giving him time to learn the system and solidify his frame for the challenges he’ll face this season.
“He’s come a long way and he’s worked very hard,” Jones said Saturday. “Initially the redshirt year was very difficult on him, but I think he now realizes that was a necessity.”
Richmond told SEC Country as much earlier this fall, admitting that he leaned on tailback Alvin Kamara and former linebacker Curt Maggitt for support as he dealt with having to sit out games.
Richmond has since developed enough for UT to throw its trust in him.
“He’s definitely gotten a lot quicker, and he’s stronger with his hands,” Vols senior defensive end Corey Vereen said Saturday. “I’ve just been going against him and trying to make him better every day. Honestly, it’s back and forth. I know on Saturday he’s going to see the best, and I feel like if he can block me, he can block anybody.”
Even so, No. 9-ranked Tennessee is the only team in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll to have a starting left tackle that has no game experience.
Sophomore left guard Jashon Robertson said he’s confident Richmond is ready.
“One year of training and developing can do a lot for a person, (and) I think Drew is a lot stronger, understands what’s demanded from him and out of our group,” Robertson said. “Drew has also improved his football knowledge and football IQ. He’s a guy I’ve worked with throughout the summer, and he has watched extra film.”
Jones said it has shown up on the practice field.
“He’s night and day from where he was last year, but there’s still so much constant growth and improvement that he needs to make every day,” Jones said. “But he has worked in the strength and conditioning room, and he’s working on finishing plays.”
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.
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Source: SEC Country