'Tiny' Richardson healthy and finding spot on O-line
The force pushing for playing time is massive, but that doesn't necessarily make it irresistible.
Whether Dallas Thomas could fight it off and simply stay put at left tackle doesn't appear to make much difference to him, though.
If Tennessee wants to see Antonio Richardson at that spot during spring football camp, Thomas is more than willing to slide down to guard. In fact, after two full seasons starting on the outside, the senior had apparently already been wondering what life might be like on the inside anyway.
"I've always been real curious to get down there," Thomas said after practice on Tuesday morning. "I've always looked at it and thought it would be fun because they always get the little knockdown blocks with the center, just coming to clean somebody up when nobody is looking at them.
"I just wanted to check it out."
Thomas has scoped out that scene at guard during open-viewing portions of both workouts this spring, though the move is obviously not solely for his benefit.
The emergence of the physically imposing and mentally developing Richardson has seemingly forced the Vols to do some early shuffling on the "organizational" chart that was just released Sunday, with left tackle perhaps his most likely landing spot as coach Derek Dooley experiments across the offensive line.
With a battle-tested veteran returning for his senior season after starting at that position for two years and growing into perhaps UT's most reliable player up front, it might not have been a surprise if the request to make way for somebody else to get a few reps would have met some resistance. But instead, Thomas embraced the chance to get a different view on the line — without conceding a role with the first unit for a group of linemen suddenly swelling with competition.
"It shows that he's willing to do whatever," Richardson said. "When they said 'Dallas, we want you to play a little bit at left guard,' I was just excited about how humble he was because it was my opportunity to come in. He was really humble about letting me get my opportunity, also.
"The coaches said there's
no set spot. We're all just rotating to see right now where guys fit at. There's no set positions. We're just moving around, and I'm enjoying it."
There's really been no movement on the edge during the past two seasons with Thomas and Ja'Wuan James starting every game during that stretch, nor was there all that much playing time for Richardson to enjoy elsewhere as a freshman.
The Nashville native saw action in all 12 games last season on special teams and turned in one of the highlights of the season with a bulldozing block out of a goal-line package that featured him at fullback.
But Richardson got off to a late start thanks to shoulder surgery that limited him during training camp and in part kept him from making much impact as he adapted to the demands of the game at a higher level.
But there is nothing holding Richardson back now. And while Thomas isn't willing to simply concede a spot in the lineup, he's also not going to prevent the sophomore from getting some valuable reps.
"Dallas was great about it, and I talked to Dallas a long time about learning guard," Dooley said. "It doesn't mean he's our guard. It only means we're looking at him.
"It's really trying to find the best five linemen with who we have, and then figuring out where to fit the best five. We know Dallas is one of our best five. He's proven it — and he's got an ability to play guard."
Thomas also has a bit of curiosity about playing there. And that might help answer some questions about whether Richardson can handle tackle.