Offensive line one unit that doesn't need a bye-week tweak

Tennessee offensive linemen Zach Fulton, James Stone and Dallas Thomas, left to right, participate in a skit where fellow offensive lineman Isaac Mobley (75) impersonates teammate Antonio Richardson during media day at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee offensive linemen Zach Fulton, James Stone and Dallas Thomas, left to right, participate in a skit where fellow offensive lineman Isaac Mobley (75) impersonates teammate Antonio Richardson during media day at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Tennesseee football practice, Oct. 2, 2012

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Tennessee coach Derek Dooley at the UT Quarterback Club

The linchpin, Dallas Thomas, is looking for Tennessee's offensive line to "keep clicking."

"We've just got to keep doing what we're doing," the Vols' senior tackle said Tuesday.

Good call. When ranked fourth nationally in sacks allowed (.40 per game), bye-week revisions aren't recommended.

UT averages more than 500 yards per game. Quarterback Tyler Bray's SEC-leading 329.2-yard passing average is a direct result of him having tons of time to find his mark. The running game, a work in progress that's found momentum, just galloped to nearly 200 yards against rival Georgia.

"We have a lot of talent and depth now," said left tackle Antonio Richardson. "Guys are going out there with the right mindset to work every day."

The results prove as much.

Having served as a backup last season, Richardson looks more comfortable every week.

Thomas and right tackle Ja'Wuan James each made their 30th career starts last weekend. Balanced on both sides of theball, they bring symmetry and skill.

Zach Fulton has started 20 straight games at right guard.

Finally, the name of starting center James Stone, maligned after last year's misadventure against Georgia, has rarely been mentioned this year — typically a good sign for an offensive lineman.

Through five games in 2011, the Vols allowed nine sacks and ranked 114th in the nation with 84.8 rushing yards per game.

This year? Four sacks and 177.4 yards per game.

"They were beat up last year, publicly, for our performance," said UT coach Derek Dooley. "It's really a focused group, a committed group and a talented group."

***

On the downside, UT's defense averages 1.2 sacks per game (100th nationally) and allows 187.8 rushing yards per game (92nd).

And No. 20 Mississippi State, the Vols' opponent on Oct. 13, averages 184.3 rushing yards per game.

***

Is anyone enjoying UT's offensive line as much as running back Rajion Neal? The junior has rushed for 342 yards during the past ast three games.

"The O-Line gave me opportunities, when I got to the open field I got my guys out there blocking and helping me," Neal said. "I am coming into my own a little bit and the guys have helped with that."

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 17

KFDLaw writes:

These guys were not intimidated by the first set of bulldogs, so maybe they will hold up against the second set of dogs. The running game is the key to winning the rest of the way.

mdvol writes:

VOLS are going to beat the snot out of MSU. This team is on the verge of a breakout. I mean, a bigtime butt kicking. Five years of frustration is pent up and my guess it comes out in Starkville. VOLS 41-24.

movol53 writes:

Please don't keep doing what you are doing . . . get better!!! We've got to run against the best and we have to get better at it.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Maybe they're getting that cohesiveness like all good O-lines have...And if these guys get it going in a dominant way, it will help the entire team improve!...OLD SCHOOL!...It starts up front! GBO!

FWBVol writes:

If you go back and look at my posts about the offensive line the last two years I've been saying it was only a matter of these guys getting in the weight room and getting stronger so they could compete at the highest SEC level. Yes, they were big young men, well over 300 pounds, when they arrived on campus, but being SEC big and being SEC strong are two different things, but now they are both and have been through the SEC wars for two years.

I think another thing that has helped is having Ron McKeefery, the strength and conditioning coach in place for almost two years now. One of the problems we had across the football program was going through something like four strength and conditioning coaches in three years. I think the consistency in the strength program is one of the most overlooked aspect of building a football team and we have that now and it will continue to pay off for years to come.

TNFaninFL writes:

Our O line pushed the GA D line around for a good part of the game, # 6, the big NT for GA that got all the pub from the media, wasnt a factor. One disappointment by the CBS coverage was that this wasnt mentioned.

volnvette03 writes:

in response to movol53:

Please don't keep doing what you are doing . . . get better!!! We've got to run against the best and we have to get better at it.

And quit false starting when we are on a roll which kills momentum!!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to TNFaninFL:

Our O line pushed the GA D line around for a good part of the game, # 6, the big NT for GA that got all the pub from the media, wasnt a factor. One disappointment by the CBS coverage was that this wasnt mentioned.

I'm not certain but I think I heard them mention it once.?? But they had a lot occupying their skulls with all the scoring going on. I don't recall the announcers much and that's always a good thing for UT, usually.hehe

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to volnvette03:

And quit false starting when we are on a roll which kills momentum!!

Dang right! I hate that! Seriously.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to FWBVol:

If you go back and look at my posts about the offensive line the last two years I've been saying it was only a matter of these guys getting in the weight room and getting stronger so they could compete at the highest SEC level. Yes, they were big young men, well over 300 pounds, when they arrived on campus, but being SEC big and being SEC strong are two different things, but now they are both and have been through the SEC wars for two years.

I think another thing that has helped is having Ron McKeefery, the strength and conditioning coach in place for almost two years now. One of the problems we had across the football program was going through something like four strength and conditioning coaches in three years. I think the consistency in the strength program is one of the most overlooked aspect of building a football team and we have that now and it will continue to pay off for years to come.

Careful. We don't want other schools stealng our good ones and we probably can't afford raises right now.

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to KFDLaw:

These guys were not intimidated by the first set of bulldogs, so maybe they will hold up against the second set of dogs. The running game is the key to winning the rest of the way.

On our running attack: Neal, on the strength of back-to-back 100-yard outings, now is on pace to rush for more than 1,100 yards, and his 103 rushes are the most in the SEC. He currently has 460 yards and 4 TD’s. The reason everyone is talking about us not having a run game is because we have yet to break that long run by a back (not named CP)

Go Vols

SCVFL writes:

in response to movol53:

Please don't keep doing what you are doing . . . get better!!! We've got to run against the best and we have to get better at it.

Mo,

I think we want to see more of what we saw against GA from the Oline. So far it is the most solid part of the entire team. I guess a little work on the illegal motion penalties would help.

GO BIG RNG...VFL

fronix5000 writes:

- hey, if we can run 200/game, bray will stay active... hard to stop. All we have to do is get CP to catch the dang ball, and get the DB and LBs on the right angles on Defense. This Offense can play with Alabama and SC, but the D needs to stop getting blocked on the edge so much.

SewaneeVolFan writes:

I just love the improvement in the O-line, no matter where it came from. In fact, I don't really care where it came from -- improved strength, more experience, better cohesiveness, better coaching from a different o-line coach -- whatever. I just enjoy it.

Their pass protection has been great for a couple of years, but I wasn't certain I believed in the improvement in the running game until the GA game. Muddying the waters a bit, the GA DC said that GA gave up the running yards as a trade off because of they were concentrating on stopping UT's long passing game. If that is so, and not the lame excuse it sounds like, then we still don't have completely reliable evidence of great running game improvement, no matter how impressive the numbers are.

But if that's just a defensive coach covering his rear, and the GA defense is as good as the pundits say it is, then the UT running game is back, baby, and we can look for even better things in the future.

CoverOrange writes:

Theoretically, if Justin Wilcox had stayed and provided another top 30 rated defense like last year, would we be undefeated and ranked in the top 10?

HopeisNotaCourseofAction writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Theoretically, if Justin Wilcox had stayed and provided another top 30 rated defense like last year, would we be undefeated and ranked in the top 10?

You got jokes!

Olddogsrule writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Theoretically, if Justin Wilcox had stayed and provided another top 30 rated defense like last year, would we be undefeated and ranked in the top 10?

How true. But Justin moved home. He now coaches 15 miles from where he grew up. Who wouldn't want to do that? Wilcox would have installed the 3-4 here at UT had we had the personnel. The 3 down linemen have to be BIG, quick and have stamina and backups able to come in and give em a rest. Hence, Dooley going the JUCO route. The O line is showing they can in the SEC, the D appeared to be finally getting it together in the 4th qtr against Ga. Richt had no reason to believe the Bulldogs had scored enough to win and would have loved to put up more, they didn't :)

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