There is no secret how important the 2019 recruiting class is to Jeremy Pruitt and the Tennessee Volunteers. In multiple interviews this season, Pruitt referenced needing to get his own guys into the program before they could compete at the level they wanted. While Pruitt and Company recruited far better than anticipated during their brief time with the Vols in the 2018 cycle, the combination of a 4-8 season and the handicaps resulting from an odyssey of a coaching search clearly hampered them. The 2019 class represents Jeremy Pruitt’s first class at Tennessee in which he and his staff have had a full year to assemble the players they want. Due to the talent of these players and the emphasis Pruitt has placed on wanting to get his own players into the program, expect to see the young men from this class on the field early and often. Here's an idea of what to expect on the field through Spring Ball and into the fall. We continue our Player Profile series by looking at Memphis product Melvin McBride.
Anyone that watched the 2018 version of the Tennessee Volunteers knows that the play of the offensive line was the biggest issue by far that the team had to address. Statistically, Tennessee’s line last season was abysmal. There was no metric utilized to measure the efficacy of an offensive line group that was kind to Tennessee in 2018. They allowed Jarret Guarantano to take massive hit after massive hit, and on the occasions Guarantano was knocked from games, Keller Chryst was subjected to similar hits. Regardless of who the signal caller was for the Vols, he was often being hit before he could plant to throw on three step drops. The running game wasn’t really any better, with the Vols ranking near the top of the nation in the percentage of called runs that resulted in lost yardage. Worryingly, backs like Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Jeremy Banks turned many runs into positive gains, or at least no gain, when being hit deep in the backfield. The struggles of this group meant that Jeremy Pruitt and his staff have prioritized offensive linemen in the 2019 recruiting class, and not just any linemen, they want their kind of guys. Pruitt and Offensive Line Coach Will Friend are looking for linemen that have size and strength, athleticism, and a nasty streak to use it. Those are traits that Whitehaven product Melvin McBride has in spades.
McBride translates to a Guard for the Vols, though Friend insists that his linemen be adept enough to play multiple positions. McBride’s athleticism will allow him to ensure the flexibility that Friend wants from him in the long run, but McBride can be dynamic at Guard. At six foot three inches tall and three hundred fifteen pounds, McBride possess the size that Pruitt has placed an emphasis on in his recruiting of offensive linemen. That said, projecting McBride forward with Craig Fitzgerald as his strength coach, his frame can carry more weight, and looking at his current build, expect it to be muscle. McBride is over three hundred pounds and will likely be expected to add more muscle weight to his frame as he actually appears a bit lean. McBride has arms a bit longer than a typical guard, but he uses them well. What separates McBride from most other guards in this class is his speed and quickness. At well over three hundred pounds, McBride is a smooth athlete with startling speed. He fires out of his stance well, moves well laterally, but looks exceptionally comfortable getting in and then blocking in space on screens and pulls.
In an interview with McBride, he said that he preferred pass blocking to run blocking. As rare as that answer is for an offensive lineman, it makes sense when considering McBride’s skills, and he at times can look and move more like a tackle than a guard. He amended his comment, however, to say how much he liked pulling. His ability there is why he will be on the inside of the offensive line at the next level. McBride’s speed means that he can get out of his stance, get across the formation, and lead block, set the edge, or get to the second level when asked to pull. There are not many guards the size of McBride that show that kind of speed, and that is one of the reasons he was so prized by this staff. He allows new Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney to call the old-school, power runs that Pruitt wants the Vols to be identified with. Additionally, he gives some very talented running backs, all of whom are quality receivers, someone that can get in space and lead screen plays for them. McBride is a unique athlete, and that rare combination of size and athleticism has served him well playing against quality competition in Memphis. That said, McBride has relied on pure talent for stretches while at Whitehaven.
Will Friend is one of the highest paid offensive line coaches in America. Melvin McBride is going to be one of the players that determines whether Friend is deserving of such a high salary. The reason for this is simple; McBride is supremely talented but raw. McBride only played two seasons at the Memphis powerhouse, meaning he is used to playing with and against FBS level talent, but he hasn’t had the snaps or camps to develop a lot of polish. The encouraging thing for the Vols is that all the areas that they want to see McBride improve in can be developed with good coaching. McBride can play too high at times, not sitting down deeply enough in his stance in pass protection. He also needs to work with his hand placement and footwork in pass protection as well as his balance in the running game. These are all things that crop up for linemen that lack experience on the field. Likewise, they can be taught in spring, summer, and fall camps. The day that he sets foot on campus in Knoxville, Melvin McBride is good enough to compete for a starting job on the interior of the offensive line. If he can adjust quickly and apply what his coaches teach him, he could end up as an anchor for an offensive line group that desperately needs one.
McBride is a cheerful, bright young man. He enjoys the game of football and learning in general. During our interview, he talked about being excited to get to Knoxville so that he could start working with coaches, learning what they wanted from him, and getting better. McBride will also be able to call on a friend and fellow Memphis product Jerome Carvin. McBride talked about looking up to Carvin and getting pointers from him while Carvin was playing his freshman season with the Vols. Now, the pair will be able to push one another to get better, with Carvin’s experience in the transition to college life likely to make the same transition easier for McBride. McBride’s attitude is upbeat and positive. He seems eager to get into the weight room, to get on the field, and to begin getting better. Knowing the situation that Tennessee had on the offensive line last season, with his dedication, McBride will likely be in the offensive line rotation for the Vols, potentially a candidate to even get some starts thanks to his talent.
Melvin McBride provides the Tennessee coaches a substantial piece of clay, one with all the athletic gifts a coach could hope for, to mold into what they want. He has an attitude and willingness to learn that coaches dream about, and though he may be raw, that means he hasn’t had time to develop many bad habits. For a Tennessee staff that is noted for their ability to develop players, they may have themselves a rare gem in McBride. They just have to do some polishing to get him to his best. That process is going to be interesting to watch over McBride’s Volunteer career, and it is likely to have a direct correlation to the condition of the Tennessee football program overall.