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Vols search for right mix
University of Tennessee NCAA college football coach Butch Jones talks about the upcoming season during a press conference Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. The Vols open at home Aug. 31 against Utah State. (AP Photo, Michael Patrick/Knoxville News Sentinel)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee freshman Jashon Robertson's improbable rise to a potential starting role underscores the Volunteers' precarious situation on the offensive line.
Robertson enrolled at Tennessee this summer, so he didn't participate in spring practice. He spent the first few days of training camp on the defensive line before moving to offense. Now he's regularly working as a first-team guard in practice.
Tennessee is attempting to replace all five of last year's starting linemen, including Miami Dolphins first-round draft pick Ja'Wuan James. Less than two weeks before the Aug. 31 season opener against Utah State, the Vols are searching for the right combination.
"It's about what we expected," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "It's not so much the search, it's having depth. When you're limited with not much depth, we want to be able to move players around. It's all about putting the best five on the field."
Tennessee opened training camp with a first-team line that featured former walk-on Jacob Gilliam at left tackle, junior Marcus Jackson at left guard, junior Mack Crowder at center, junior Kyler Kerbyson at right guard and freshman Coleman Thomas at right tackle. But the Vols recently moved Kerbyson over to right tackle and lined up Robertson at right guard.
Kerbyson backed up James at right tackle last season and said he's comfortable at either position.
"I think I like guard more just because I have a better body for it," Kerbyson said. "I'm more stout than I am long. But either way, I'm good with what I'm doing."
Jones praised Robertson for showing good effort each day without hitting "the freshman barrier." Kerbyson credited Robertson's "gung ho" attitude and noted how the freshman is consistently asking questions of the older linemen. Robertson says he has benefited from his background as a state champion wrestler in high school.
"Wrestling works wonders," Robertson said, "I've seen guys on my team in high school who had a year or two of wrestling, and they came on the football field a totally different player. It helps with your balance, hands, just leverage, everything.
"It perfectly relates to football, especially the mental aspect of it. There's something about getting off your back - when somebody has you on your back - and being down in the fourth quarter that completely correlates, that mindset you have to fight and get up."
The fact Robertson's here at all is a surprise. He verbally committed to Vanderbilt the summer before his junior year at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, where he played on both the offensive and defensive lines. Robertson reopened his recruitment after Penn State hired away former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.
Now he has a legitimate shot to open his college career in Tennessee's starting lineup.
"It would mean the world, just to make my mom happy and my family happy, to give them something to come watch and be proud of," Robertson said. "It would be a tremendous opportunity. Hopefully, I get that opportunity."
NOTES: Jones said defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry aggravated a knee injury Saturday but added that "we don't anticipate him being gone for the season." Jones said that "right now it could be a couple of days, it could be a week." Injuries limited Saulsberry to four games last season. .... Monday marked the last practice of Tennessee's training camp. The Vols take Tuesday and Wednesday off before beginning full-scale preparations for Utah State.