UT position previews: Offensive line

Tennessee center Josh McNeil doesn’t mince words when talking about Tennessee’s plans for the offensive line this fall. He’s a fan, unabashedly so, of what the Vols hope to accomplish up front under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin.

“We’re probably more comfortable now, 10 times more comfortable now, than we were at this point last year by far,” McNeil says. “By far.”

After 15 practices in the spring, Tennessee’s offensive linemen are raving about an almost exclusively zone blocking scheme. And they couldn’t be more comfortable, unless perhaps they could play wrapped up in a cozy blanket.

“We always talk about how the overall type of plays we run, how much the style fits us, how much we love it,” McNeil said. “We’ve all talked about that. We all agree that we’re really excited to get it going come fall.”

Coaches: Jim Chaney, James Cregg (tackles)

Lettermen Lost: (3) OT – Ramon Foster, Ramone Johnson; OG – Anthony Parker

Projected Starters: LT – Chris Scott (Sr., 6-5, 346); LG – Vladimir Richard (Sr., 6-4, 300); C – Josh McNeil (Sr., 6-4, 280); RG – Jacques McClendon (Sr., 6-3, 324); RT – Jarrod Shaw (Jr., 6-4, 332) or Aaron Douglas (R-Fr., 6-6, 282)

Watch For: A big jump in UT’s production in the run game. The Vols are shaping up to be a run-first team, and assuming right tackle becomes settled, they should be able to produce.

Key Stat: Behind UT’s four seniors, five players combined to play in nine games last season. Exactly none of those played in an SEC game other than UT’s 34-3 rout of Mississippi State.

Much of Tennessee’s offensive success could rest on a good year from the offensive line. Last year, the Vols struggled to run or pass, finishing 115th in total offense and next to last in the SEC.

At least part of the blame rests on an offensive line that never grasped a flip-flopping scheme that saw players frequently move from the right side to the left side, sometimes even from play to play. Head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator/line coach Jim Chaney installed a zone approach this spring, hoping to exploit UT’s athleticism along the line.

“We’ve definitely got some athletes that can get out there and get to running up front. That’s what you need in a zone scheme,” McNeil said. “We’ve got some really athletic linemen in the two-deep.”

What they don’t have is a lot of experience beyond four returning players who started games last fall.

McNeil is the Vols’ most experienced player with 35 consecutive starts heading into the season. Guards Jacques McClendon and Vladimir Richard platooned at guard last season opposite Anthony Parker, who departs along with right tackle Ramon Foster.

Chris Scott returns at left tackle, but spring practice failed to produce a clear-cut starter at right tackle.

Junior Jarrod Shaw and redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas are the leading candidates heading into fall camp, but neither is a sure thing.

From a depth standpoint, the Vols have little besides former walk-ons Cody Sullins, who pushed McNeil for the starting job during spring practice, and his brother, Cory Sullins.

Still, McNeil saw the Vols make strides in offseason workouts.

“A lot of the times an offensive lineman isn’t ready to play because he just isn’t physically ready to play yet,” he said. “That’s where the summer comes in, getting bigger and stronger and faster. A player might mentally know what he’s doing but not be there physically. In the summer, the player can get to where he needs to be going into the fall so he can be there.”

When it comes to confidence, at least, UT’s offensive line is already riding high. In McNeil’s case, at an all-time high.

“I haven’t been this confident about our run scheme going into a season since I can remember,” McNeil said. “That’s how much confidence I have in this run system and how much confidence I have in what we’re doing going into this season.”

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

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Comments » 59

1974Vol writes:

New offensive staff, whole new blocking scheme, other than just the experience of knowing what you will face phyisically week end and week out in SEC, don't see how having experience helps this group. Get big, strong and fast and go find someone to pancake!

DennisVols writes:

Rebuilding the Reputation of a team and a coach. Lane Kiffin and the UT Volunteers
http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/Denn...

BIG_ORANGE_BLEEDER writes:

You are the man Josh! We are glad to have your leadership out there! You OL Men don't get near the credit you deserve. Thanks for laying on the line for TN! Push Hard, we are behind you all the way Vols!

Kiffinator writes:

This is what I like to hear. A confident O-line bringing a solid running game will aid our QB at bouncing back from a rough year. The Qb's wont know what to do with all of the xtra time they will have to make reads over last years offense

1974Vol writes:

in response to Kiffinator:

This is what I like to hear. A confident O-line bringing a solid running game will aid our QB at bouncing back from a rough year. The Qb's wont know what to do with all of the xtra time they will have to make reads over last years offense

Yeah adding off for 10-12 yard runs and 1st downs sure covers alot QB dyfunction.

1974Vol writes:

That's handing off - wow and haven't even had a beer yet!

reidtownriverrat writes:

last year we avg 122.9 per game rushing ranked 89 natl. need to get back to 200 per game. slow lazy linemen, no fullback (that can block) and lack of qb contibuted to that.

Kiffinator writes:

in response to 1974Vol:

That's handing off - wow and haven't even had a beer yet!

Sure does and it will also give our WR's the ablility to burn a DB caught peeking into the backfield too

Kiffinator writes:

in response to reidtownriverrat:

last year we avg 122.9 per game rushing ranked 89 natl. need to get back to 200 per game. slow lazy linemen, no fullback (that can block) and lack of qb contibuted to that.

I say confusing offensive scheme that sometimes asked linemen to switch sides mid-drive and constantly have to worry about making the right reads and just not playing ball contributed to that more than anything

RoadTrip writes:

The tickets arrived today. Can't wait! Go Vols!!!

Anxious to see how they work the young OL into the games to get them experience this year. Every snap counts. Something CPF forgot, especially when it came to back-up QB's.

arlvol writes:

Flip flopping o-lineman made absolutely no sense last year. I cant believe CPF didnt put a stop to that BS the first day Clawfense mentioned it to him.

reidtownriverrat writes:

in response to Kiffinator:

I say confusing offensive scheme that sometimes asked linemen to switch sides mid-drive and constantly have to worry about making the right reads and just not playing ball contributed to that more than anything

that same off. @ richmond produced a subdivision championship. 2877 yrd pass 2992 yrds rush. the richmond players learned how to block.

DennisVols writes:

in response to reidtownriverrat:

that same off. @ richmond produced a subdivision championship. 2877 yrd pass 2992 yrds rush. the richmond players learned how to block.

In all actually at Richmond the first year Clawson installed that scheme it failed.
They had been using that scheme I believe 3 years when those stats happened lawson recruited players to play that way.
Any on want to see UT struggle for a couple more years just so we could prove Clawson had a clue as to what he was doing?

reidtownriverrat writes:

in response to DennisVols:

In all actually at Richmond the first year Clawson installed that scheme it failed.
They had been using that scheme I believe 3 years when those stats happened lawson recruited players to play that way.
Any on want to see UT struggle for a couple more years just so we could prove Clawson had a clue as to what he was doing?

so your saying we need to recruit players that can block?

buxavol writes:

in response to 1974Vol:

That's handing off - wow and haven't even had a beer yet!

Who do we have that can hand it off? Consistently?! Maybe the new JC kid?!!

99gator writes:

kiffin has a big task ahead of him.

forget the qb problem.

who the heck is going to play offensive line in 2010?

ThaiVolFan writes:

Guys our major problem last year started with the O Line. If the O Line is this confident compared to last year and if they can actually translate that confidence to their play on the field, look out. We can forget about last year and all that misery. This season has a very good possiblity of being very surprising to us along with our SEC competitors because last year was SO BAD and absolutely no one is expecting anything from us this year. I for one am beginning to feel extremely optimistic just because the O Line is going to have a very positive chain reaction that flows to the backs and receivers allowing our QB to play with confidence, something a QB must have. It's more than Kool-Aid boys, we not only have a new staff on the Hill, we are going to have a new team take the field in Orange this year! GBO

txvolsfan writes:

in response to arlvol:

Flip flopping o-lineman made absolutely no sense last year. I cant believe CPF didnt put a stop to that BS the first day Clawfense mentioned it to him.

I agree 1000%, with CPF being a former lineman and a line coach you wonder how he could let something so confusing happen to his guys!!!
I think he just let it all ride on the Clawfense and knew it would make him or break him. We all know the results, never go to Vegas with Phil!!!
TXVOLSFAN
CAN'T WAIT TILL KICK OFF

Kiffinator writes:

in response to reidtownriverrat:

so your saying we need to recruit players that can block?

We are saying that it was the systems fault. UT under Fulmer used a pro style offense and recruited pro style players to run that offense. Then just like Michigan and Auburn we tried to install a spread offense and fell flat on our faces and now Auburn and UT have new coaching staffs. If you put a fresh water fish in the ocean and it dies you dont blame the fish.

Need_2_Know writes:

Wow, depth is really going to be a problem. No mention of any incoming freshmen, so there must be none in this class projected to make a big splash. What players we do have have enough talent if they only have enough gas. Man, does anyone get more excited about the next play than Vladimir Richard? He literally bounces up to the line, and this year it sounds like they're gonna turn em loose to actually smack somebody.

No help to the line, but aren't we gonna be in good shape at fullback? Isn't there another Bartholomew on the squad, or is my feeble memory playing tricks again?

RJ_Vol writes:

Offensive line was definitely the correct name last year, if you catch my drift. It was too offensive.

txvolsfan writes:

Guys, I encourage all to go to the Vol Elite!!!

There is big rumblings about a big fish changing his commit tomorrow to the Big Orange and he throws the ball(QB), everyone from Simms, Blake Bell to Heaps has been speculated but he is supposed to already committed to stones Kiffin!!!
VOL ELITE is reporting it all
TXVOLSFAN

micbrooks#212023 writes:

It seems like over the past 2-3 years we recruited 2-3 tight ends/year...why can't at least one of them besides Douglas be converted to a lineman...? tell them to put on the feed bag and bulk up...they have to be fairly athletic or they wouldn't be a tight end to begin with

BasketVols writes:

in response to 99gator:

kiffin has a big task ahead of him.

forget the qb problem.

who the heck is going to play offensive line in 2010?

Let's worry about 2009 first, dude. Who's going to play QB for Florida in 2013?

Tenn_Dawg writes:

in response to 99gator:

kiffin has a big task ahead of him.

forget the qb problem.

who the heck is going to play offensive line in 2010?

That should be a huge concern for Vols. The 2009 unit will probably be ok if they avoid the injury bug. The 2010 season could prove disasterous with freshman, red-shirt freshman and sophmores anchoring the line. Not trying to flame here but trust me...as a UGA fan I have witnessed it first hand over the last two years. The trenches is a man's game and asking a 18-19 yr old to handle a Robert Ayers, Mt Cody, Ricky Jean Francques type player is too much...even for the blue-chip guys.

xvolx writes:

in response to RJ_Vol:

Offensive line was definitely the correct name last year, if you catch my drift. It was too offensive.

that would be offensive offensive line.

ethanfrome writes:

in response to Kiffinator:

This is what I like to hear. A confident O-line bringing a solid running game will aid our QB at bouncing back from a rough year. The Qb's wont know what to do with all of the xtra time they will have to make reads over last years offense

Be careful with the word, "bouncing" when talking about our QB.

Bloodrunzorange writes:

The elephant in the room...Josh McNeil....His second chance starts in August. Go Vols!

Hayezb writes:

I havn't watched them practice to really know if they are any better, but all I need to hear is how confident they are!!

Go Vols!!

Pdiddy10 writes:

we all need your help to vote for eric berry for heisman. get as much ppl as you can to vote for him. DONT BE LAZY

VolFanNC writes:

in response to 99gator:

kiffin has a big task ahead of him.

forget the qb problem.

who the heck is going to play offensive line in 2010?

It is a huge concern for next year. This year they should be ok, but depth is an issue.

Next year they are recruiting some JC's to fill gaps, but I am much more worried about next year than this year.

HoopleVol writes:

With the Zone Blocking scheme and a confident OL, they can get a journeyman back 4-7 yards per play. Give Hardesty or Brown that kind of downhill headstart and it'll be either off to the races or a safety that gets the big wood! The Big Orange crown will ROAR it's approval, and it will be a long night for the other team's defense, especially in the 2nd half. Our top-5 defense will be cheering, rested, on the sideline, just waiting to headhunt after we drive down the field again and again.

I'm tellin ya folks, any OL would ALWAYS rather run block than pass block, and the Zone scheme gives that steamroller effect that's just fun to do - go find someone to pancake, right next to your buddy, at full speed!

it's gonna be a helluva ride !!

GO VOLS !!!

Class '92
UT Rugby!

invisiblekid writes:

WR Markeith Ambles is a Vol. #7 WR, won MVP at FNL in FL.

StroVol writes:

Vol nation says we got Ambles commit. 4star receiver

Wilhelm16 writes:

I know this is off subject but I am hurting for some football and feeling rather nostalgic. Anyone want to share some of their favorite Vol moments? I'll start: 1995 @ Bama Peyton to Joey Kent 80 yd TD first play from scrimmage.

smoky50 writes:

in response to 1974Vol:

Yeah adding off for 10-12 yard runs and 1st downs sure covers alot QB dyfunction.

Also hopes this helps us on third downs. We have faultered at 3rd down conversions for several years. Keep at it OL, GO VOLS!!!!!!

InertGas writes:

Will someone please wake me up an hour before kickoff? Thanks.

Wilhelm16 writes:

in response to BIGGEST_UT_FAN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Or Carl Pickens going both ways and catching an int in the back of the end zone in the 1989 Cotton Bowl.

jasonn1970 writes:

How about Chuck Webb's 75-80(?) yard run in that same Cotton Bowl.

givehim6 writes:

It is good this O line is comfortable with this new blocking, becouse there must be improvement from last year, witch i,m sure will happen. Recruitment for 2010 & 2011 is depending on it.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jasonn1970:

How about Chuck Webb's 75-80(?) yard run in that same Cotton Bowl.

Jeff Powell taking it to the house to nail the lid shut on Miami in the '86 Sugar Bowl!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

How many days, gerryop?

Bloodrunzorange writes:

in response to Wilhelm16:

I know this is off subject but I am hurting for some football and feeling rather nostalgic. Anyone want to share some of their favorite Vol moments? I'll start: 1995 @ Bama Peyton to Joey Kent 80 yd TD first play from scrimmage.

From what I remember about that game...I spilled my Jack and Coke on the guy in front of me right after I mixed the drink (after that play). He was not happy, but he got over it real fast. Shane Burton was the SEC Defensive Player of the week that week. He had one his best games as a Vol! I wish #84 was on our line today! I smoked tradional cigars with the team outside the dressing room after the game. We heckled Fowler, Corso and James in the hotel lobby (ESPN was there for the game). Great trip to Birmingham! Best memory: UCLA came to town in 91' It was very hot. We spent the game following sweat beads racing down a chicks back soaking her sun dress. Sorry, my best memories in Neyland from 90' to 95' did not involve footbal!- Please pay these prices and please pay No More! Go Vols!!!

dubyson writes:

The o-line really impressed me during the spring game. Now going back two years ago...im going to defend crompton a little. When he came into the game at LSU he played very very well and was exciting to watch. The next year we get a whole new offense and lame play caller that did not fit what he has always done. Crompton should be excited about getting to play football again in a system that fits him well. The reason it fits him is based on the fact that it fits the o-line. If the line is blocking, if the pressure of having to make 3rd and longs all day is off then you become more confident as a passer. He tried to throw his way out of a bad reputation every time they called his number. The pressure is off this year and I hope he has a great season!! GO VOLS!!

Chomp writes:

in response to Tenn_Dawg:

That should be a huge concern for Vols. The 2009 unit will probably be ok if they avoid the injury bug. The 2010 season could prove disasterous with freshman, red-shirt freshman and sophmores anchoring the line. Not trying to flame here but trust me...as a UGA fan I have witnessed it first hand over the last two years. The trenches is a man's game and asking a 18-19 yr old to handle a Robert Ayers, Mt Cody, Ricky Jean Francques type player is too much...even for the blue-chip guys.

At Florida we never look beyond the regular season. The SEC and beyond will take care of itself if the team does their job, same thing applies here. Take care of 2009, and 2010 will take care of itself.

reidtownriverrat writes:

in response to Lostballnhighweeds:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

mow your yard and go find your ball.

1974Vol writes:

in response to GeneralNeyland96:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

92 Florida game in Knoxville in a down pour. Mose Phillips catches a swing pass and takes it the distance for the game winner, splashing water with every step. Then his great "what time is it" pose as he looks at his wrist watch in the end zone. Got to love that game!

TommyJack writes:

in response to Chomp:

At Florida we never look beyond the regular season. The SEC and beyond will take care of itself if the team does their job, same thing applies here. Take care of 2009, and 2010 will take care of itself.

chomp this

SWAVol writes:

Peerless breaking free down the sideline in the against the Fla State db and the ball hitting him in stride. I can still hear a John Ward TD call. I wish we had someone like Ward to call the games now. Bob is so boring, it's like a news cast not a football game.

panavol writes:

in response to DennisVols:

Rebuilding the Reputation of a team and a coach. Lane Kiffin and the UT Volunteers
http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/Denn...

Thanks For the post Dennis!
Go VOLS!

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