Trying to read the smoke signals, I think the coaches really like Akpo's potential at this point. I haven't heard as much chatter about Lampley. But, hoping both those guys push for playing time this year. Time flies, and the current veteran O Linemen will be moving on before I know it.
Here are the players with the best chance to be key contributors and make an immediate impact as true freshmen.
Tennessee’s staff offered Spraggins a scholarship less than an hour after seeing him for the first time. At 6-foot-3 and 338 pounds, he’s the kind of hulking road-grader Tennessee has begun collecting on the recruiting trail. However, he wowed the staff with how he could move. He was a bit of a hidden jewel for the Vols in this class, and even with a stacked starting lineup along the offensive line, look for Spraggins to bully his way into the rotation. The Vols’ starting five looks solid, especially if Cade Mays is eligible, but it’s a little thin on the second unit. Spraggins could help bolster that group in his first season on campus.
By the summer after his junior year, Spraggins had grown to around 330 pounds yet had only a few major offers from local schools like Illinois and Mizzou. Iowa State also offered.
That June, his high school 7-on-7 team needed a snapper, so he tagged along to a camp at Tennessee.
“I went out the morning the tournament started and I was just doing my thing, calling out linebackers, telling my guys where they were going to be when our receivers had to run meshes and all that stuff,” Spraggins said.
One of Tennessee’s coaches eyed his frame during a workout but didn’t know his name. He called Tennessee offensive line coach Will Friend over to the field, and they put Spraggins through a 10-minute workout. Jeremy Pruitt was watching from afar, quietly talking with receivers coach Tee Martin.
Friend asked Spraggins to do the same workouts and drills he uses to train his offensive linemen. He taught him a couple of hand placement techniques and asked him to duplicate them. Spraggins completed it with little issue.
“I was just working, focusing on my steps and hitting the bag as hard as I could,” Spraggins said.
Two or three times during the 10-minute workout, a coach holding the bag had to tag out for a rest.
“He showed the coaches how technically sound he was with the fundamentals and how aggressive he was,” Sunkett said. “He was just that strong.”
Friend also tested Spraggins by showing him plays, concepts and blocking assignments on a whiteboard and seeing how well he could understand and memorize them.
Spraggins had never talked to Martin or Friend, but they brought him inside for a conversation. They were offering him a scholarship.
“It took him going to camps for schools to really see how he moves and what kind of shape he’s in,” Sunkett said. “Tennessee fell in love with what they saw once they saw him up close and in person.”
Tennessee has offered prospects that quickly from time to time, but what happened next was a rarity. Later that afternoon, Spraggins committed after talking over his options with his coach and teammates. Defensive back Antonio Johnson also committed to the Vols that day, though he decommitted the following month and eventually signed with Texas A&M.
Spraggins never wavered, signing with the Vols six months later during the early signing period last December.
“He always wanted to play in that conference, so when it happened, he jumped on it,” Sunkett said. “And he’s a really loyal kid. That’s what he wanted to do, and that wasn’t the first school he had visited. They didn’t waste any time. Other schools would say, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ but Tennessee didn’t. They knew what they wanted. And that really impressed him.”
For now, the top of Tennessee’s depth chart on the offensive line looks stacked, with a pair of sophomore five-star tackles in Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright, a sixth-year senior at center in Brandon Kennedy and two NFL-caliber talents at guard in Trey Smith and Georgia transfer Cade Mays, provided Mays is eligible for the 2020 season. But coaches have told Spraggins to prepare to play in Year 1.
“He puts his heart into everything he does,” Robert Spraggins said.
For Javontez Spraggins, dwarfing his competition in pee-wee ball was ages ago. Whether it was trying to catch his older brothers growing up, being tossed into the varsity starting lineup as a freshman in high school or now hoping to play as a freshman in the SEC, he has experience finding his way in difficult situations.
Being stuck in a holding pattern as he turns the page to the next stage of his life is just one more.