Returning talent one of several draws to UT for Sam Pittman

Offensive line coach did some 'homework'

Offensive line coach did some 'homework'

By Austin Ward

warda@knoxnews.com

History and tradition were at the top of the list.

Then there was the challenge of taking a crack in the brutally competitive world of the SEC.

The chance to work with an offensive coordinator like Jim Chaney who he's respected for so long and the positives he'd heard about Tennessee coach Derek Dooley also were a selling point.

But Sam Pittman has been around the profession long enough that even as appealing as those factors might be, after 21 years on college football sidelines, he also was in a position to look at one other crucial area when he considered the open spot on the UT coaching staff.

Clearly the new offensive line coach liked what he saw as he checked out the talent he'd inherit for his first season with the Vols.

"As you get older, I think you do more of that," Pittman said during his first media appearance with the program on Wednesday. "You decide when you can make decisions on where you're going to go work, I think you do your homework on who they have coming back and all this because obviously you're not a great coach unless you have great players.

"So, I evaluated our talent and they've done a nice job of recruiting offensive linemen here."

The Vols didn't sign any in their most recent class, but based on the haul they brought in during the previous two seasons, they

didn't really have a pressing need.

In some respect, Pittman was aware of the impressive job UT had been doing in rebuilding its line since he had targeted a few of the same players while at North Carolina.

A respected recruiter, Pittman might now benefit from a few second chances as he takes over a group that will return all five starters, another with significant first-team experience — and an enormous sophomore in Antonio Richardson, who could be primed for a breakout spring camp next month.

"I just saw a lot of experience coming back," Pittman said. "They're big kids — and anytime you have guys with that kind of size and that kind of athletic ability, that have experience, you're headed in the right direction.

"We're just now going through our (video) cut-ups and different things of that nature. But I would say this, more than anything that's stood out is the way they work. ... They've been busting their tail (in the offseason). Anytime you've got those type of characters in your offensive line room, I think you're going to have some success."

With essentially the same returning group at this time last year, there was a similar expectation for the Vols to blossom on the line after a handful were thrown into the fire as freshmen. And while UT generally seemed more sound in pass protection with Dallas Thomas and Ja'Wuan James playing tackle and the combination of Alex Bullard, Zach Fulton, Marcus Jackson or James Stone on the inside, the running game ranked among the worst in the nation.

All those experienced players now figure to benefit from another season of experience and additional time to develop physically. And while Pittman is clearly aware of their ability and potential, he's also reserving judgement on them until he actually gets something to evaluate in person.

"I think for those kids it's good that I don't have an opinion about any of them," Pittman said. "I'm trying not to have an opinion on who I think is really good, who's not very good, those things.

"We're not that far off. We have to just be more consistent, and that's with the line and everybody — and it's easier when you have game experience, when you have guys out there that have seen something before. That's probably what stood out the most (on film), but we've got some work to do."

Leading that effort in the trenches for UT is now Pittman's job. And he apparently had plenty of reasons to want it.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 41

nocleats writes:

Increasing strength is the most glaring need for Tennessees Oline!

tenman45 writes:

He will motivate this offensive line and coach this unit to play as a team up front. This was the the main issue last year in my opinion.No easy to run block. This will get better guarenteed. Go Vols!

johnlg00 writes:

UNC's offensive lines were among the strongest and most productive on the team. They seemed to both run-block and pass-block equally well. Most of us think with reason that the Vols' O-line has great potential, along with the feeling that they haven't yet lived up to it. If they can come up with a good consistent push and stay healthy, the whole offense will look a lot better. Good luck, Coach Pittman!

johnlg00 writes:

Meant to say, "strongest and most productive UNITS on the team".

iowavol writes:

There is a lot of work to do, technique, position, strength, toughness, finishing the block. They are big enough, are they mean enough.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to iowavol:

There is a lot of work to do, technique, position, strength, toughness, finishing the block. They are big enough, are they mean enough.

I wouldn't want to call any of them Fat a... if they were anywhere near me.

atributetoLombardiwasbanned writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Unless they had already drooled on it.

dvhill100 writes:

The offensive line took a lot of heat for the lack of a running game last year, and certainly they deserved some of it. I did notice when Simms was in there the running game was much better. Bray needs to get up to speed and check into the right plays to make the running game successful. That was something Manning was always very good at. If Bray can't/won't, then get someone in there who will.

clvolfan writes:

in response to tenman45:

He will motivate this offensive line and coach this unit to play as a team up front. This was the the main issue last year in my opinion.No easy to run block. This will get better guarenteed. Go Vols!

You are so right,and I love the fact that these coaches are speaking out.Motivation is what seems to have been missing last year.GBO

wigmeister writes:

We will get better!

TheVolSnake writes:

Pittman is an major upgrade and he knows he can be successful this year, he will get in and evaluate the players and find the right mix. Last year we were very good a pass protection but a combination of factors hurt our running game.

One factor was the constant moving linemen around. each position has different blocking schemes and Techniques.

Another factor was as much as I loved Poole every time he hit the hole he veered to the outside the opposing Linebackers knew this and were able to cheat to the outside. In football half a step is the difference between long run and a little or no gain.

We will be fine this year barring any major injuries.

I do worry about the lack of experienced depth at running back, but that will be solved by the coaches.

With the WR we have we should be very dominate and last year our line did a great job of pass protection.

I know Pittman will find the right mix, teach Techniques and we will be improved over all.

givehim6 writes:

Coach Pittman, job #1&#2 teach O line to open up running lanes and protect our QB on pass plays, stopping the pass rush for at least 4 sec. would be great, 3 sec is hoped for 1 more would be nice. Would like to see Hunter running down the sideline agin.

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

CDD hit a homerun with this hire.

VFL...GBO!!!

TNFaninFL writes:

Pittman sounds like he has what we need to coach the OL. Always felt that the OL underachieved last year, was that a coaching problem ? Who knows but these guys are now Juniors with two years under their belts, no more excuses that they are young, maybe this change in coaches is the thing they need to really become an OL that can push, RBs are fine, Poole was a dancer into the holes, now that we have a RB coach, perhaps he can coach the RBs how to hit the holes and break tackles. Listened to Pittman's interview, he seems solid, quiet confidence !

PHAT_VOL writes:

in response to dvhill100:

The offensive line took a lot of heat for the lack of a running game last year, and certainly they deserved some of it. I did notice when Simms was in there the running game was much better. Bray needs to get up to speed and check into the right plays to make the running game successful. That was something Manning was always very good at. If Bray can't/won't, then get someone in there who will.

I agree and I'm not sure Bray will be the starter. Is he a real leader or an I man? Coach Pittman said in his interview that the group had been beat up and its the coaches job to get them back. Does anyone know exactly what he means by that statement? Get them back.
GO VOLS !!

BigVolFaninSC writes:

These guys did an excellent job of pass protection last year. The run blocking will automatically improve due to not having sophomores against seniors! Hopefully, Pittman can pump some attitude into these guys as this unit can certainly cause the whole team to elevate if they are improved!...Especially in the run game! GBO!

Hound_Dog69 writes:

in response to PHAT_VOL:

I agree and I'm not sure Bray will be the starter. Is he a real leader or an I man? Coach Pittman said in his interview that the group had been beat up and its the coaches job to get them back. Does anyone know exactly what he means by that statement? Get them back.
GO VOLS !!

more than likely he is talking about getting them back to being confident in their abilities after a losing season. GBO!!!!

volnvette03 writes:

in response to clvolfan:

You are so right,and I love the fact that these coaches are speaking out.Motivation is what seems to have been missing last year.GBO

Agree there needs to be more motivated fire in their bellies!! However, that will come with confidence. I believe the young Vols lack the confidence for several reasons. 1. There was no dept on the team which put these young men into action too early. 2. No depth at the upper level meant lack of leadership numbers 3. Too many coaching changes too many playbooks/terminology to learn therefore causing too much hesitation on the field. I do feel confident we will see vast improvement this year!

cooper65#432178 writes:

I sure wish we had signed at least one quality O Lineman this year. We need to build a pipeline that keeps the talent flowing into the starting lineup. We also need the depth.

hueypilot writes:

in response to dvhill100:

The offensive line took a lot of heat for the lack of a running game last year, and certainly they deserved some of it. I did notice when Simms was in there the running game was much better. Bray needs to get up to speed and check into the right plays to make the running game successful. That was something Manning was always very good at. If Bray can't/won't, then get someone in there who will.

to paraphrase Lloyd Bensten, "I knew Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning was a friend of mine. Tyler, you are no Peyton Manning"

bvol1inSC writes:

I just read an article on GoVols247..."Chaney, Neal...., etc." As I've posted here for weeks, my biggest fear is that Dooley will not empower his assistants and position coaches. Most head coaches probably take about 80-90%+ of the input their assistants and position coaches provide...but Dooley seems to take about 25%...wants to do things his way. That would be fine if he was Saban, Miles, Meyer, Kelly, Beamer or any seasoned, experienced, winning NCAA HC, etc. HE IS NOT. If he does not utilize the experience of this superior and much upgraded coaching staff - it will mean his failure to learn, lead and will absolutely bring about his demise. He MUST empower - and not micro-manage. Not sure that's something he can be taught or mentored by Hart...maybe Coach Pittman or Graham will throw DD a long overdue "blanket party" if he gets in their way...or maybe they'll pick up the direct line to Hart and rat out, once and for all, the type personality that Dooley masks behind his good ol' boy PR face. I'm still amazed by the decision to move Neal from RB to WR/SR - with the depth we had at WR (even when Hunter went down) - AND the lack of output we had in the running game with Poole and Lane. With Neal's sub-4.4 40yd speed - imagine how that could've stretched defenses on the edges - possibly enabling better runs "up the middle." Seems like Chaney had similar thoughts. The article talks about Neal having good hands...well, if he has good hands, he can be coached and worked to reduce fumbles. Moreover, if he's a fumbler as a RB - he'll be a fumbler at WR as well. Also, why not run a lot of "screen packages" or pitches with Neal (and Poole) out of the backfield if you're trying to get the ball into Neal's hands without a hand off?...probably because Bray would rather throw the ball 30-50yds down the field to show off his arm vs. screen passes that highlight the abilities of others on the offense. Almost sounds more like Dooley empowered Bray more than Chaney! Finding out this type of info - directly from Chaney - further plunges me into doubt about DD. I now understand why Chaney has had such a successful career everywhere else he's been - and even with Kiffin - and then looks so bad w/Dooley. Chaney - like every other assistant - was on a short leash. This is no way to coach...especially in the SEC and with athletes that probably had better head coaches in high school vs. Dooley. That's what brings about the type of team let-down/disappearance that caused the worse loss in U.T. history at KY. It is truly like the longer he's here, the more of a train-wreck he's going to create. Thank God Hart will have Dooley on a short leash this year - and thank God Hart has surrounded him with a stable of experienced assistants and position coaches that appear poised to stay if Dooley leaves/is replaced. Derek - if you can hear me: Let go, let the coaches coach, and do your recruiting and PR "thing!"

sameolvolalum writes:

bvol: 80%? 90%? 25%? From what source did you derive these #'s? Has CDD actually empowered his previous assistants....or has he not? How do YOU know? And this metaphorical leash.....How have you managed to gauge it's length? The only accurate % here is the 100% pure conjecture on your part. Your simple speculation has been noted, but soon will be forgotten.

Supersayin1 writes:

in response to nocleats:

Increasing strength is the most glaring need for Tennessees Oline!

Also add in quickness, toughness and we've got us a winner. I think we will have these this year! Go Vols!

Supersayin1 writes:

Loving the Positive Post about the future of our most important group on the team! GO VOLS!!!

UTKnoxVols writes:

in response to sameolvolalum:

bvol: 80%? 90%? 25%? From what source did you derive these #'s? Has CDD actually empowered his previous assistants....or has he not? How do YOU know? And this metaphorical leash.....How have you managed to gauge it's length? The only accurate % here is the 100% pure conjecture on your part. Your simple speculation has been noted, but soon will be forgotten.

Thank you for post. I was thinking the same thing. If Dooley is such a bad coach, then why would the new coaches come here.

Sports Animal was talking to someone on the radio yesterday, I think it was one of the Coaches, but I'm not sure who, but they asked him about Rajion Neal, if they were going to keep him at Reciever, or as an running back. And he said for the time being he most likely will be a receiver.

illinoisvolfan writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Time will tell on that. I hope he does as good a job as Mike Berry did in the mid-to-late 90s. Those units certainly got the job done.

sameolvolalum writes:

Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives as for the 2012 season. A really good recruiting class (truly.....it is), a new contingency of position coaches and the DC and maybe.....just maybe the injury bug won't rob us of some of our best players (on both sides of the ball) and some of those wussy nay-sayers will find another site to slime over. GBO!

writer#358485 writes:

I think we'll surprise some of the SEC "big boys" this year, maybe several of them. Dooley knows what he's doing. He's building from the bottom up and it's not his fault that's where he had to start from. I look for a good--potentially even great--year ahead! Go Vols!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to TheVolSnake:

Pittman is an major upgrade and he knows he can be successful this year, he will get in and evaluate the players and find the right mix. Last year we were very good a pass protection but a combination of factors hurt our running game.

One factor was the constant moving linemen around. each position has different blocking schemes and Techniques.

Another factor was as much as I loved Poole every time he hit the hole he veered to the outside the opposing Linebackers knew this and were able to cheat to the outside. In football half a step is the difference between long run and a little or no gain.

We will be fine this year barring any major injuries.

I do worry about the lack of experienced depth at running back, but that will be solved by the coaches.

With the WR we have we should be very dominate and last year our line did a great job of pass protection.

I know Pittman will find the right mix, teach Techniques and we will be improved over all.

It may well be a case of using the pass to set up the run next season. Clearly, the O-line was much better at pass-blocking than run-blocking last year. Even if we grant that Poole and rest were not ideal running backs, it was still obvious that the line just didn't get much of a push when the Vols did try to run the ball.

One thing that would help the running game is for Bray in particular to get better at ball-handling. It is just not enough for a QB to be a good passer; he also has MUCH to do with how all the rest of the offense works. His play-action fakes were just laughably inept; he just sorta waved the ball in the general direction of the RB, fooling NO ONE. You just can't run a decent draw play if you never even TRY to fool anyone on a play-action pass.

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to sameolvolalum:

bvol: 80%? 90%? 25%? From what source did you derive these #'s? Has CDD actually empowered his previous assistants....or has he not? How do YOU know? And this metaphorical leash.....How have you managed to gauge it's length? The only accurate % here is the 100% pure conjecture on your part. Your simple speculation has been noted, but soon will be forgotten.

You can change the numbers and meanings to suit yourself - instead of 80 or 90 simply substitute "a majority" or "more" - and you sub a "minority" or "less" for 25% - but you can't change the truth. And if you want to believe it's conjecture - believe what you want. Stick your head in the sand...be blindly loyal...that's fine by me. But I've presented truth in my post - whether you like it or not.

CroKev writes:

I just hope the linemen don't repeat last August's mistake of saying they are going to make their RB the first 2,000 yard rusher in SEC history. As it turned out, Poole gained less than 700 yds. They just need to prove their worth on the field and curtail the jaw-boning. They certainly have the talent, resources, and coaching to do so. I'm still not sure if they have the RBs to do so, though.

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to UTKnoxVols:

Thank you for post. I was thinking the same thing. If Dooley is such a bad coach, then why would the new coaches come here.

Sports Animal was talking to someone on the radio yesterday, I think it was one of the Coaches, but I'm not sure who, but they asked him about Rajion Neal, if they were going to keep him at Reciever, or as an running back. And he said for the time being he most likely will be a receiver.

I want one or both of you (UTKnoxVols or sameolvolalum) to explain to me why we'd keep Neal at receiver...especially with the recruiting class we just signed...and more than a few of those receivers will be ready to play in the fall. We are "short" at running back...and Neal IS a RUNNING BACK. We didn't have an RB coach last year - so it's on Dooley for allowing the move of Neal out of position. What a waste of talent last year.

Those coaches would come here because U.T. is a great place to be - and Hart would likely encourage them that there will be stability for THEM. They would also know that they represent incredible upgrades from the original staff hired by Dooley/Hamilton. Just watch the production that this staff will get out of these players if DD will stay out of their way! Thank goodness for the new sheriff in town - Hart.

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to sameolvolalum:

Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives as for the 2012 season. A really good recruiting class (truly.....it is), a new contingency of position coaches and the DC and maybe.....just maybe the injury bug won't rob us of some of our best players (on both sides of the ball) and some of those wussy nay-sayers will find another site to slime over. GBO!

Good post - don't disagree with one word you've posted here.

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to johnlg00:

It may well be a case of using the pass to set up the run next season. Clearly, the O-line was much better at pass-blocking than run-blocking last year. Even if we grant that Poole and rest were not ideal running backs, it was still obvious that the line just didn't get much of a push when the Vols did try to run the ball.

One thing that would help the running game is for Bray in particular to get better at ball-handling. It is just not enough for a QB to be a good passer; he also has MUCH to do with how all the rest of the offense works. His play-action fakes were just laughably inept; he just sorta waved the ball in the general direction of the RB, fooling NO ONE. You just can't run a decent draw play if you never even TRY to fool anyone on a play-action pass.

Great observation on Bray...and please, stop selling Poole short. Any RB would have a tough time/season if their head coach continually criticized them publicly. Poole deserved better.

orange_eVOLution writes:

We have experience and depth on the offensive line and Sam is gonna make sure we can run the damn ball this season. PLUS... he recruits.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to bvol1inSC:

I want one or both of you (UTKnoxVols or sameolvolalum) to explain to me why we'd keep Neal at receiver...especially with the recruiting class we just signed...and more than a few of those receivers will be ready to play in the fall. We are "short" at running back...and Neal IS a RUNNING BACK. We didn't have an RB coach last year - so it's on Dooley for allowing the move of Neal out of position. What a waste of talent last year.

Those coaches would come here because U.T. is a great place to be - and Hart would likely encourage them that there will be stability for THEM. They would also know that they represent incredible upgrades from the original staff hired by Dooley/Hamilton. Just watch the production that this staff will get out of these players if DD will stay out of their way! Thank goodness for the new sheriff in town - Hart.

I'm not the one you asked the question, but since this is a public board I'll add my 2 cents on the matter. The reason Neal was moved to WR was probably to get more playmakers on the field at the same time. He made quite a few plays last year and many times he was handed the ball on end-around plays. I like his versatility, and this game is predicated on creating mismatches against the defenses. Since he can line up in both spots now, he can cause the defense to have the wrong group on the field! So, what's the problem? And why do you assume that Dooley and Hart have a contentious relationship? Here's a thought: Let the coaches coach, the players play, the administrators administrate and the fans......cheer 'em on! GBO!

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to johnlg00:

It may well be a case of using the pass to set up the run next season. Clearly, the O-line was much better at pass-blocking than run-blocking last year. Even if we grant that Poole and rest were not ideal running backs, it was still obvious that the line just didn't get much of a push when the Vols did try to run the ball.

One thing that would help the running game is for Bray in particular to get better at ball-handling. It is just not enough for a QB to be a good passer; he also has MUCH to do with how all the rest of the offense works. His play-action fakes were just laughably inept; he just sorta waved the ball in the general direction of the RB, fooling NO ONE. You just can't run a decent draw play if you never even TRY to fool anyone on a play-action pass.

Sir

I agree with everything you say, and I think I may have come off wrong when pointing out about Poole, if we had a running back coach last year that could watch tapes and make some minor adjustments to Pooles running attack I think would have been different.

Yes Bray needs improvement in his play action but should be improved this year. In high School he probably was in a pass first offense tailored to his style so didn't have to do a lot of play action, so is a learning curve for him.

The line as you know moved around a lot last year and never was fully stable I think our New O. Line coach will work this out in the spring and may put in Multiple packages therefor rotating linemen in and out but in set positions, therefor keeping a fresh line, so they don't wear down by half time.

TheVolSnake writes:

Our O. Lineman this year

Name /Rival/ Stars/ Year/ Size
Alex Bullard
4 JR. 6-2/309
Antonio Richardson
4 SO. 6-6/325
James Stone
4 JR. 6-3/308
Ja'Wuan James
4 JR. 6-6/324
JerQuari Schofield
4 JR. 6-6/333
Marcus Jackson
4 So. 6-2/326
Alan Posey
3 So. 6-6/330
Kyler Kerbyson
3 So 6-5/305
Marques Pair
3 So 6-5/310
Zach Fulton
3 JR. 6-5/330
Dallas Thomas
3 Sr. 6-5/305
Carson Anderson
2 Sr. 6-1/280
Jacob Gilliam
1 So. 6-4/274
Mack Crowder
3 So 6-2/275
Darin Gooch
1 Sr. 6-2/301

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to bvol1inSC:

I want one or both of you (UTKnoxVols or sameolvolalum) to explain to me why we'd keep Neal at receiver...especially with the recruiting class we just signed...and more than a few of those receivers will be ready to play in the fall. We are "short" at running back...and Neal IS a RUNNING BACK. We didn't have an RB coach last year - so it's on Dooley for allowing the move of Neal out of position. What a waste of talent last year.

Those coaches would come here because U.T. is a great place to be - and Hart would likely encourage them that there will be stability for THEM. They would also know that they represent incredible upgrades from the original staff hired by Dooley/Hamilton. Just watch the production that this staff will get out of these players if DD will stay out of their way! Thank goodness for the new sheriff in town - Hart.

I like the post above was not asked the question but here is my input.

It is very very early Spring practice hasn't started yet.

We have new coaches

We have a need at running back but three new players came in and may win the running back role or two of the three also played DB in high school and may move there.

With all these factors no one really knows who will play what position and if Neal moves back to running back or not: till after spring and all the evaluations are done.

Now all that being said Neal will be a key player this year somewhere unless something major happens somewhere on the field.

Trust the coaches to make the right personnel moves for the team. Remember we don't see all the practices and work outs so we have to trust the coaches.

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to BigVolFaninSC:

I'm not the one you asked the question, but since this is a public board I'll add my 2 cents on the matter. The reason Neal was moved to WR was probably to get more playmakers on the field at the same time. He made quite a few plays last year and many times he was handed the ball on end-around plays. I like his versatility, and this game is predicated on creating mismatches against the defenses. Since he can line up in both spots now, he can cause the defense to have the wrong group on the field! So, what's the problem? And why do you assume that Dooley and Hart have a contentious relationship? Here's a thought: Let the coaches coach, the players play, the administrators administrate and the fans......cheer 'em on! GBO!

Don't disagree w/you either! But I do call BE ESS on Neal being moved to WR. Like his versatility - BUT - we've got bigger problems on offense than having a strategy to get the wrong defensive (opposing) groups on the field! The problem is that DD does NOT let the coaches coach and the players play...but I do agree w/you on GBO - and maybe DD will figure it out this year.

bvol1inSC writes:

in response to TheVolSnake:

Sir

I agree with everything you say, and I think I may have come off wrong when pointing out about Poole, if we had a running back coach last year that could watch tapes and make some minor adjustments to Pooles running attack I think would have been different.

Yes Bray needs improvement in his play action but should be improved this year. In high School he probably was in a pass first offense tailored to his style so didn't have to do a lot of play action, so is a learning curve for him.

The line as you know moved around a lot last year and never was fully stable I think our New O. Line coach will work this out in the spring and may put in Multiple packages therefor rotating linemen in and out but in set positions, therefor keeping a fresh line, so they don't wear down by half time.

Good post - we are in violent agreement! GBO!

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