With two straight wins, Vols get some swagger back
Tennessee Stat Book
It's not exactly clear when Tennessee coach Derek Dooley came up with the nickname "ShawDog" for the only upperclassman on his offensive line, but there's no mistaking what Jarrod Shaw thinks about it.
"I don't like that, man," Shaw said with a smile and an eye-roll earlier this week.
On Wednesday, Dooley had a different title for Shaw, one that likely resonates with the senior just a little bit better than "ShawDog."
"He's been phenomenal, his attitude has been great, he's playing to his capacity," Dooley said. "I'm proud of him. I'm proud of what he's done this year."
There are few statistics that one can attach to an offensive lineman, especially a guard like Shaw, but the most important number Shaw can claim for UT (4-6, 1-5 SEC) as soon as Saturday (TV: CSS, 7:30 p.m.) against Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6) is three. If Zach Fulton returns from an ankle injury, it will mark the third time this season where Shaw starts at a different position than he did one week earlier.
On a line loaded with freshmen and sophomores, that versatility has proved invaluable.
Just recently, freshman James Stone needed a couple weeks away from the field to prepare for his switch from guard to center. Shaw wasn't given that option when he was bumped over to left guard, which gave Stone more time to develop chemistry with the quarterbacks and Fulton, a star in the making on UT's offensive line, an opportunity for significant playing time.
"Boy I tell you, I'm thankful he's here," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "If we even have an MVP - I don't know if we do or if we don't - but he'd certainly have my vote. He's done a wonderful job.
"The more you can do is kind of a pretty good adage to live by. If you're an offensive lineman, if you can play a lot of positions, it benefits you."
Shaw has certainly taken his time developing into an every-game starter.
A three-star defensive tackle out of LaFayette, La., Shaw redshirted in 2006 and didn't see the field in 2007. As a redshirt sophomore in 2008, Shaw played in just two games, picking up a few snaps here and there against Mississippi State and UAB.
"The tempo of practice, you just don't get in high school," Shaw said. "The different periods, the length and just not understanding how to practice. It's the way you're supposed to practice, it's game speed and a lot of guys coming in the program don't understand that."
Though he didn't play much in 2008, Shaw picked up skills that have become paramount to his production today. Then-offensive coordinator Dave Clawson wanted his linemen to be versatile enough so that in case of an emergency, the next-best lineman, not just the next-best player at that particular position, would be ready to play.
"We started flip-flopping sides," said Shaw, who has been groomed as a right guard since his arrival. "I got comfortable at left guard, too. The biggest challenge is just flipping everything around in your head. That kind of messes you up sometimes when you want to fire out and hit somebody."
Shaw, though, started the first three games in 2009 at right tackle before he saw spot action at the two guard spots. With an uncertain future under his third coaching staff in as many years, Shaw didn't know exactly where he'd play, or if he'd play at all, during his senior season.
He approached the offseason with a mindset that gave him a bit of an edge over his younger counterparts.
"When you're young in the program, I'm not going to say you don't like practice, but you just don't understand how to practice with a purpose," Shaw said. "Toward the end of last season when I had not played anymore, I went back to that and was thinking about it for a while, trying to focus myself in practice and dedicating myself to practice more.
"Obviously that's been paying off for me in the past couple weeks."
Against two of the biggest defensive tackles in the SEC - Ole Miss' Jerrell Powe and Ted Laurent - Shaw played one of his best games of the season. Though he's remained modest throughout his five years at UT, Shaw had no problem boasting a bit on his Twitter account about how high he graded out against the Rebels.
Now, he'll likely be asked to do the same against Vanderbilt from the other side of the line.
"Shaw's our swing guy," Dooley said. "Every time a guy has gone down, he's the guy that's been the sacrificial lamb."