Cody Pope has lost count of the moves that have put him at center.
The Tennessee junior has an exact number in mind that could help him stay there though.
Heading into the summer, Pope has one critical homework assignment from new Vols coach Derek Dooley. And considering all the struggles UT had simply getting the ball to the quarterback this spring, the latest favorite to win the starting job in the middle of a completely rebuilt offensive line hasn’t questioned it at all.
“Coach gave us the best words of encouragement, to both (Victor Thomas) and I,” Pope said. “If we’re not snapping every day, getting 100 snaps every day, we’re working for Florida or we’re working for Alabama, that’s the bottom line. I think that’s a big thing. I see where they’re coming from.
“This is serious right now. This is SEC football, and we are a little behind with where we are at center. I’ve never got snaps at center in an SEC game and neither has Vic, so we’re a little behind there. So if we’re not getting snaps every day, at least 100 or whatever it is, we’re basically kicking ourselves in the butt.”
The Vols may have some work to do all over the field to keep opponents from kicking them around as well, but the load is undoubtedly heaviest on the offensive line.
UT didn’t get a true evaluation up front with the unit split into two for Saturday’s Orange and White Game, but the constant pressure on the quarterback and lack of consistency in the running game provided another reminder that the biggest concern at the start of Dooley’s first spring is the same at the end. And while Dallas Thomas and Ja’Wuan James have shown great ability at tackle, JerQuari Schofield and Jerrod Shaw have emerged as viable options at guard and Pope may have finally settled into a role at center, the tinkering up front is nowhere near done.
“On the offensive line, it’s hard to say it could have been much better given the situation,” Dooley said. “I think we have some very talented young linemen. Our biggest concern upfront was center position, and it still is. Cody Pope has really persevered through the spring, we’ve played him at guard, we’ve moved him to tackle and then we’ve moved him inside, and I think he’s ended up being a good, steady hand and he and Vic will battle it out at center.
“Now the big concern is depth, and we’ve got some young cats behind them, but I feel good about that first five.”
That was perhaps the theme of spring for the Vols, who could offer that same sort of assessment at nearly every position.
The starting rotation at defensive line and in the secondary is clearly talented, though there’s not a whole lot in reserve. UT has great potential at linebacker, but that’s contingent on a handful of players returning from brutal injuries and surgeries.
The Vols are well-stocked at receiver and they appear to have an every-down, SEC-caliber rusher in Tauren Poole.
But the passing game will be reliant on a new starter, and before Poole can take a handoff, the quarterback has to have a successful exchange from the center.
Which, obviously, Pope was made well aware of before the offseason even began.
“At one time I went to the coaches and was like, ‘Hey, are you going to keep moving me around or what’s the deal?’” Pope said. “They said it was a big positive, that they think I can be moved around and be very versatile. At the end of the day I was just happy to maybe find a home at center.”
And he’s more than willing to start counting snaps this summer if he doesn’t have to do it for position changes again.