Adams: By the numbers, it's not shocking Vols struggle

John Adams

The first play looked as easy as offensive coordinator Jim Chaney made it sound in the Orange team locker room before the Tennessee spring football game Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

As a columnist/media head coach embedded with the Orange and privy to pregame planning, I listened as Chaney plotted a long snap count designed to take advantage of defensive tackle Montori Hughes' aggressive nature. Chaney matter-of-factly assured his guys they would be starting off first-and-5 after Hughes was flagged for being off-sides.

The strategy worked even better than Chaney predicted. Half the White line was too eager for the extended count. The same strategy also worked later in the game on a third-down conversion.

But it was already apparent by the second off-sides penalty, there weren't enough tricks in the playbook to neutralize the 6-foot-4, 317-pound Hughes. He was too strong, athletic, and - on this day - too motivated for anyone to block consistently in the White's 16-7 victory. Double-teaming him was just as apt to multiply the number of blockers at fault as to prevent him from disrupting a play.

Hughes stuck out in the locker room as well as on the field.

That's not all good.

"We've only got three defensive linemen over 280 pounds," first-year UT head football coach Derek Dooley lamented afterwards.

It's understandable why he would find that number "shocking."

He grew up around Georgia football when his father, Vince, was the head coach. He was an assistant to Nick Saban at LSU. He knows how crowded a locker room can look when it's full of SEC-size linemen. This one doesn't look that crowded.

It surely wouldn't look as crowded as Alabama's or Florida's. Alabama has nine defensive linemen weighing more than 280 pounds; Florida has seven.

That's just another reminder of the challenge ahead for a UT program which is as down in numbers as it is in weight. When the team was split in half for the spring game, the depth chart underscored the problem.

There weren't enough scholarship players to fill out two starting offensive lines. The White team's back-up nose tackle was listed at 253 pounds.

The spring game illuminated another shortcoming: the impact of a single injury.

Senior Luke Stocker, who sat out the game with a shoulder injury, looks like an NFL tight end. But no one else comes close at this point.

Senior wide receiver Gerald Jones of the Orange made plays even though he's not at full speed because of an ankle injury. Running back Tauren Poole of the White made plays, too, just as he always has in the spring and preseason.

They made just enough plays to remind you how crucial it is for the most prominent players on this offense to stay healthy. In the best of health, it still has so much to overcome.

As I stood on the sideline next to Chaney as he called plays for the Orange, the degree of difficulty was magnified. It couldn't have been much different on the other sideline.

The program has its third new coaching staff in as many years. The lack of experience and depth in the offensive line is glaring. One quarterback candidate, Matt Simms, is a junior college transfer; the other, Tyler Bray, should still be in his senior year of high school.

Given the limitations, I'm not surprised the offenses struggled. I'm surprised either one managed a touchdown.

At least, Bray demonstrated - as we coaches like to say - "a live arm" and considerable poise for his age and experience.

He has the arm and height (6-foot-6) but needs to add muscle as well as experience to thrive in the SEC.

In the most optimistic UT scenario, Bray will develop mentally and physically at an accelerated rate; Poole will capitalize on the opportunity he didn't get from the last two coaching staffs; the veteran receivers will stay healthy; incoming recruits will bolster the offensive line.

And the rest of the SEC will have just as much trouble blocking Hughes.

John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 5

hueypilot writes:

This is the first time I have ever been first. In years past, I always looked to see if we were going to have a defense. Having been raised in the era of Bear and Shug and Bowden and Bobby (Dodd) I knew if you had a defense, you were usually in every game. I hope this year's product is good and not just a case of our offense being inept. But I'll be there in person to watch it play out.

Couchdummy writes:

in response to hueypilot:

This is the first time I have ever been first. In years past, I always looked to see if we were going to have a defense. Having been raised in the era of Bear and Shug and Bowden and Bobby (Dodd) I knew if you had a defense, you were usually in every game. I hope this year's product is good and not just a case of our offense being inept. But I'll be there in person to watch it play out.

Congrats. Nearly 10 hours later you are the only posting.

pomp_and_circumstance writes:

This might be the most precise, concise, accurate observation about UT football John Adams has ever written. This just goes to show that if a columnist/media head is allowed to enter the locker room a miraculous transformation might occur. The downside of course is that further ingress within the inner sanctum will not be forth-coming, and John will once again be trapped in his singular purgatory, like a scientist with a dozen degrees who can't formulate a theory to save his life - or career.

nocleats writes:

The fact that coach Dooley is shocked about our D line situation is understandable in that he just got here. For those of us who have been watching for the last 5 years it is not a shock as every year Tenn came up short on hitting home runs in the recruitment of top tier D lineman and did not seem to have a fallback plan in place for the so-called 3-4* D lineman. It got to where Tn signed 1 or 2 a year and for 2 years basically just 1 in a conference that demands a team sign 4-6 every year,. Now Tenn is in such a hole that they need to sign as many as 6-8 a year for the next 2 just to get on plane with their rivals. Tenn Needs DTackles!!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to nocleats:

The fact that coach Dooley is shocked about our D line situation is understandable in that he just got here. For those of us who have been watching for the last 5 years it is not a shock as every year Tenn came up short on hitting home runs in the recruitment of top tier D lineman and did not seem to have a fallback plan in place for the so-called 3-4* D lineman. It got to where Tn signed 1 or 2 a year and for 2 years basically just 1 in a conference that demands a team sign 4-6 every year,. Now Tenn is in such a hole that they need to sign as many as 6-8 a year for the next 2 just to get on plane with their rivals. Tenn Needs DTackles!!

Preach it brother!

DT is the glue of any team.

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