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Undeterred by Alabama initiation, Tatum is ready for whatever is next

In the last year, Marcus Tatum has gained close to 50 pounds and experienced a trail-by-fire initiation against No. 1 Alabama.

In the process, Tennessee’s sophomore offensive lineman has learned a crash-course in what it takes to survive in the SEC. From late night protein shakes and PB&Js to a lost redshirt season, Tatum said, “Everything happens for a reason.”

“It really did better me,” he added.

Last fall, Tatum arrived in Knoxville looking more like an oversized tight end rather than an SEC offensive tackle. Former offensive coordinator Mike Debord praised Tatum's work ethic and intense practice habits, but Tatum simply didn’t have the weight to survive in the nation’s toughest conference. With vets like Brett Kendrick, Chance Hall and Drew Richmond in front of him on the depth chart, the Florida native never expected to be thrown into the mix until a cascade of injuries caused Tatum to make his college debut against the Crimson Tide.

Weighing all of 260 some-odd pounds, Tatum did his best against a front featuring multiple potential first round NFL Draft picks. It didn’t go particularly well.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Tatum said Thursday. “It really did (make) me better. What freshman can say they played against multiple first round draft picks in a game? Going from Derek (Barnett) in practice to Tim Williams and all of them in a game, it was just a great experience.”

Nearly six months removed from his trying initiation, Tatum is up around 285 pounds and has taken a ton of reps at tackle this spring with both Kendrick and Hall sidelined with injuries. The 6-foot-6 sophomore hasn’t just seen growth in his body, but he’s noticed a tangible progress and development in his techniques, too.

“The game has slowed down a lot,” he said, adding that he’s really taken to the teachings of new offensive line coach Walt Wells. “I feel like I’m not just surviving out there. I feel like I’m contributing more. … I’m more comfortable in the offense. I’m not thinking about the plays. I’m ready to go.”

With star freshman enrollee Trey Smith in the fold along with Richmond, Kendrick and Hall, Tatum could be destined for a redshirt season this fall. It wouldn’t hurt to gain a year back, especially as he aims to get closer to the 295-300-pound range.

But for now, the sophomore is simply focused on finishing spring practice strong, was the Vols offensive tackle is preparing like he’ll be thrown into the fire once again next season.

“It’s been a blessing in disguise,” he said, on taking extra reps with no Kendrick, Hall or Thomas this spring.

“I want them because because those are my older brothers, and I always go to them for questions, but I’m going to have to carry the same weight they did. When they’re in there, they preform Now, I just need to perform just as well as they do.”

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