Tennessee offensive line has flourished under new coach, faster offense

Pittman says confidence is key to success

Sam Pittman

Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2012

Sam Pittman

When a new head coach was hired at North Carolina, offensive line coach Sam Pittman lost his job, but not his paycheck.

Under no obligation to scramble for work, or even work at all in 2012, Pittman could afford to be picky.

So how did he end up at Tennessee, where an underachieving offensive line had led to one of the worst running games in college football?

"I took the job because of the players in that room," said Pittman, referring to the Vols current group of offensive linemen. I knew they were really good players, but for whatever reason just hadn't jelled yet."

The Vols' offensive line has powered a running game that amassed nearly 200 yards against Georgia's vaunted defensive front while keeping Tyler Bray relatively safe. It's gone from being "picked on" as head coach Derek Dooley said Monday, to being one of best units in the league.

The Georgia game went so well for the line that Pittman said he might prefer to play again Saturday rather than take the bye. The Vols (3-2, 0-2 SEC) next play at Mississippi State on Oct. 13 (TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m.).

"If we weren't healthy, it would be a different story," Pittman said. "But we've still got things to work on."

Pittman, 50, replaced Harry Hiestand, who left to take the same job at Notre Dame in January. His connection to Knoxville was through offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, a longtime friend. But he also was familiar with many of the linemen on the Vols' roster from recruiting the Southeast.

"I had a contract where I didn't have to go to work.

But I wanted to come to Tennessee, because I knew who I was coming to Tennessee with — Chaney, and the (linemen) in that room," Pittman said. "I had recruited a lot of those guys, lost out on recruiting battles for a few of those guys. That's why I wanted to be a part of it."

In addition to the progress in the running game, where the Vols are averaging 177 yards per game, Tennessee's line has surrendered only three sacks — compared to 10 at this time last year and 19 two years ago.

The Vols start a senior (Dallas Thomas), three juniors (Ja'Wuan James, Zach Fulton and James Stone) and a sophomore (Antonio "Tiny" Richardson) on the line. Junior Alex Bullard and sophomore Marcus Jackson play regularly off the bench.

"I think the experience is a factor," Pittman said. "I think they're playing better just because they've seen more game time and they've got more confident. You can't play the game if you're not confident. And now they believe they can. That's a big part of it. And that's a hard thing to get done."

Pittman believes the move to a fast-paced offense, often taxing on linemen, also has been a positive. There's less thinking and more hitting.

"When I came in, we tried to turn them loose," Pittman said.

Chaney has noticed the difference.

"The offensive line is in sync," he said. "They're playing fast and coming off the ball and striking you."

Don't underestimate another factor, Pittman said. After taking their lumps for two years, this group is tired of getting pushed around.

"You can only beat somebody so much and eventually he's going to get up and try to bite you back," Pittman said. "That's what happening with us right now."

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 41

volinlm writes:

Great job, coach. Good luck and keeps the big hogs blockin' !

RockyMountainVol_Killed_By_GVX writes:

The following is a copy of an e-mail sent to the GVX administrator:

I think I understand what's happened here, but I'd surely appreciate some confirmation.

I -- and a lot of other contributors -- are disheartened by your willingness to ban certain offensive contributors, only to allow them back onto your website in as little time as it takes to set up a new username. It's the same handful of people over and over and over again.

So I, being the wiseacre that I am, decided to make my own little protest: I suggested removal of every single comment these guys made... NOT because that any particular comment was necessarily offensive, but because they shouldn't even be allowed on a reasonably-run message board. I figured that, sooner or later, SOMEBODY at GVX might choose to address the underlying issue. If/when GVX administrators addressed the issue, I intended to cease and desist.

And, it appears that somebody did address the issue: they deactivated MY account... because, obviously, I am more offensive to GVX administrators than are the posters who routinely get away with all sorts of off-topic personal attacks on players and coaches.

Yeah, I guess I could do the same that the Jeff Flowers of this world do, and just crank out another username. But you know what? I don't intend to do that OTHER than to post a copy of this e-mail so other contributors can see what's happened. There is not a SINGLE COMMENT that I have ever made on your website that was deemed offensive. All I've done is tick off a board administrator because I had the nerve to repeatedly point out how spineless the administration of this site was. I got too annoying to the brass, so I got flushed just like the trash that repeatedly post offensive material.

If that's your idea of a message board that serves the public, you can have it.

Sincerely,

RockyMountainVol

AllVol1 writes:

I know we are Wide Receiver U, but we have cranked out some great O linemen over the years. It's so good to see these big boys getting pushy. GO VOLS!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Go BIGS ORANGE! luv your work.

UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST writes:

in response to AllVol1:

I know we are Wide Receiver U, but we have cranked out some great O linemen over the years. It's so good to see these big boys getting pushy. GO VOLS!

Some users consider this comment inappropriate. Reveal this comment.

Actually you are Nothing U.

Totally irrelevant. Maybe the fourth best team in the East. Eighth or ninth best team in the SEC. Wide Receivers that cannot hang on to the ball. Defenders that can't tackle. A coach that couldn't win a Pop Warner game.

Yes. Totally irrelevant.

EIGHT

laraccoon writes:

in response to UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST:

This comment may be inappropriate. Reveal this comment.

Actually you are Nothing U.

Totally irrelevant. Maybe the fourth best team in the East. Eighth or ninth best team in the SEC. Wide Receivers that cannot hang on to the ball. Defenders that can't tackle. A coach that couldn't win a Pop Warner game.

Yes. Totally irrelevant.

EIGHT

your entire post is an oxymoron , apparently we are relevant to you because your reading and posting about UT .think before you speak PUTZ !

6972 writes:

Criticize the problems: kicking PATs; or the run defense, but where praise is due, give it. Good job offensive line, keep up the good work and keep improving. Go Orange!

BigOrangeFever76 (Inactive) writes:

in response to UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST:

This comment may be inappropriate. Reveal this comment.

Actually you are Nothing U.

Totally irrelevant. Maybe the fourth best team in the East. Eighth or ninth best team in the SEC. Wide Receivers that cannot hang on to the ball. Defenders that can't tackle. A coach that couldn't win a Pop Warner game.

Yes. Totally irrelevant.

EIGHT

Flowers....put on a fresh Depends and go back to bed. You do your best work while asleep.

tomatosoup writes:

Absolutely love the fact that we have only one Senior on the O line! Many great things to come for the Vols starting next Saturday with a nice win over Miss. State. Let's get the win next Saturday and be back in the Top 25, just waiting on Alabubba to make a ride into K'town! Gooooo Vols!!!

Classof72 writes:

What a nice, well-coached unit the Vols offensive line is. It's become the promising nucleus of the team. The running backs now play like quality backs, and it's a joy to watch. The O-line is a huge part of that. If the rest of the team can catch up, we'll have a really good team.

pcorange writes:

The O-line is definitely a bright spot this season. MUCH improved over last year.

OrangePsyched writes:

I'm so proud of how these guys have become a real strength for this team. They're playing well in both aspects of the offense..pass protection and running game. I think we only lose Fulton this year. Let's fix the defense and we will roll.

mytrifecta writes:

I really like Pittman...but lets be honest...he inherited a group with experience and talent. His predecessor had these same kids as freshman/sophmores with nearly zero college experience. Regardless they are making huge strides...keep it up.coach.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Iam glad for any run block progress but to say this line is dominant is a stretch..They still have basic technique flaws and execution break downs that come to light if you happen to watch how GA and FLA handled our defensive front..It's great to get some downfield push but the more important thing is to tie up DL or even better get good leverage and turn your man out of the play..Running lanes are made by turning the DL shoulders just enough to make a small wall..Simple and basic but easier said than done!!If you watch the film closely on GA and Fla they did a great job of pulling and also getting their hands inside and holding the defender in place..By getting their hands on the outer part of the lower shoulder pad they got away with tons of holding calls..on some of the big runs GA broke the LB was held but done in away that never looked like your typical hold..I watched the Bama/ole miss replay last night and I couldn't believe the size of the left side of the Bama OLine..The Left Tackle looks like a 350lb long armed gorilla that no defender could ever beat with a speed or bull rush..The left Guard was basically a tackle..I don't mean to be overly critical in the face of success but this Oline is still a work in progress

bhenry writes:

I knew coach Pittman was a great guy the first time we meet. He came to the family waiting room after the spring game & just start talking football with me. Really good guy but we have to give credit to the guys up front. They have really worked hard on & off the field. Keep going guys don't stop proud of you.

RollTideJoe writes:

in response to tomatosoup:

Absolutely love the fact that we have only one Senior on the O line! Many great things to come for the Vols starting next Saturday with a nice win over Miss. State. Let's get the win next Saturday and be back in the Top 25, just waiting on Alabubba to make a ride into K'town! Gooooo Vols!!!

Guess who is the bubba?

bhenry writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Iam glad for any run block progress but to say this line is dominant is a stretch..They still have basic technique flaws and execution break downs that come to light if you happen to watch how GA and FLA handled our defensive front..It's great to get some downfield push but the more important thing is to tie up DL or even better get good leverage and turn your man out of the play..Running lanes are made by turning the DL shoulders just enough to make a small wall..Simple and basic but easier said than done!!If you watch the film closely on GA and Fla they did a great job of pulling and also getting their hands inside and holding the defender in place..By getting their hands on the outer part of the lower shoulder pad they got away with tons of holding calls..on some of the big runs GA broke the LB was held but done in away that never looked like your typical hold..I watched the Bama/ole miss replay last night and I couldn't believe the size of the left side of the Bama OLine..The Left Tackle looks like a 350lb long armed gorilla that no defender could ever beat with a speed or bull rush..The left Guard was basically a tackle..I don't mean to be overly critical in the face of success but this Oline is still a work in progress

Its not holding if they don't call it. Its called a good block. You could call holding on every run play. I'm sorry but they pass block better than most SEC teams. Picking up all the stunts up front that takes a really good O-Line. 3 sacks on all the pass plays we run good job.

VolFanInTheBoro (Inactive) writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Guess who is the bubba?

you are

SewaneeVolFan writes:

in response to UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST:

This comment may be inappropriate. Reveal this comment.

Actually you are Nothing U.

Totally irrelevant. Maybe the fourth best team in the East. Eighth or ninth best team in the SEC. Wide Receivers that cannot hang on to the ball. Defenders that can't tackle. A coach that couldn't win a Pop Warner game.

Yes. Totally irrelevant.

EIGHT

Go away.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to bhenry:

Its not holding if they don't call it. Its called a good block. You could call holding on every run play. I'm sorry but they pass block better than most SEC teams. Picking up all the stunts up front that takes a really good O-Line. 3 sacks on all the pass plays we run good job.

Agree on all points..+Learning to hold without getting the call is a learned art form but anybody knows most big runs are sprung because somebody on the outside was held and line judges should know this too..Some of the holds on Lathers and our LB's were pretty blatant but passed quickly and line refs get too caught up watching the ball..Our pass blocking is pretty great and Jarvis Jones was for the first time a non factor..Not only our we not giving up sacks but I think we are pretty good in a more important category of Hurries..MSU only has like four sacks but they have 20 plays where they hurried the QB into bad throws..I lost track of how many balls Bama's DLine knocked down at the line against Ole Miss..Hard to stop and something we better address

Vol_In_The_Ville writes:

Yeah....I've been excited about this group since 2010. Great to see them produce!!

beartn#223846 writes:

For the first time in a few years, we finally have an SEC caliber offensive line. I'm pretty happy with where the offense is right now. The most glaring project that this staff has is getting an SEC caliber secondary. We have to get more speed for DB's in recruiting if we are going to challenge for the East again.

navarrebeachvol writes:

in response to UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST:

This comment may be inappropriate. Reveal this comment.

Actually you are Nothing U.

Totally irrelevant. Maybe the fourth best team in the East. Eighth or ninth best team in the SEC. Wide Receivers that cannot hang on to the ball. Defenders that can't tackle. A coach that couldn't win a Pop Warner game.

Yes. Totally irrelevant.

EIGHT

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

VOLS_SEC_RULES writes:

I just wish they would stop the "illegal procedure" penalties....they seem to have 3 or 4 every game...even at home.

exlineman writes:

What a great group of comments from some very knowledgeable fans. KNS is to be complimented for disposing of some of these trolls making for better reading material on our vols. Recruits read these blogs as well. Again Thanks.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to OrangePsyched:

I'm so proud of how these guys have become a real strength for this team. They're playing well in both aspects of the offense..pass protection and running game. I think we only lose Fulton this year. Let's fix the defense and we will roll.

I don't think there is anything wrong with the defence except the learning cycle is a little slow for our expectations. Yes tackling fundamentals were bad with the attempt at arm tackling, But hand tackling is the very worse thing a defence can attempt. The team was just too far out of position to get close enough to even arm tackle. They'll do much better this coming game. The criticism will stop completely over this next three games. We have a team and a good Coaching Staff
Vols 9-3

VolinCalif writes:

in response to carbonatedmilk:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I love Grahams ability and I love Pittman as a coach. But Pittman gave a lot of credit to Chaney for him coming to UT. Lets see how good Chaney is now that he has a running Backs and Oline coach. Chaney has always been a great Passing coach but never had the talent or support to produce a great running game. I for one think he will surprise everyone.
Vols 9-3

AtopTheHill06 writes:

The mark of a good o line is how they play in the 4th quarter. In the uga game the Vols o line wore down the vaunted Georgia front seven. Neal was getting five yards a run and on his late TD run, he had a hole the size of Knoxville to run through. I see alot of progress being made by this group.

bhenry writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Agree on all points..+Learning to hold without getting the call is a learned art form but anybody knows most big runs are sprung because somebody on the outside was held and line judges should know this too..Some of the holds on Lathers and our LB's were pretty blatant but passed quickly and line refs get too caught up watching the ball..Our pass blocking is pretty great and Jarvis Jones was for the first time a non factor..Not only our we not giving up sacks but I think we are pretty good in a more important category of Hurries..MSU only has like four sacks but they have 20 plays where they hurried the QB into bad throws..I lost track of how many balls Bama's DLine knocked down at the line against Ole Miss..Hard to stop and something we better address

Great point! But remember Tyler is 6'6 and stands tall in the pocket.

hueypilot writes:

SI has a story this week calling GA DE Jarvis jones the best defensive player in the SEC. I don' t remember much of him in this game so somebody must have done a pretty good job on him last Saturday

orangecountyvols writes:

RockyMountainVol,

A-men friend. I am very glad to see a few who will stand up for the Vols on this site. We do indeed get enough of the trolls, who once banned.........are allowed through the back door again. No, you have never said anything offensive, and that's why I am totally surprised the KNS staff would do what they did. We have long believed a few of the trolls here are in actuality KNS plants. One would think when you ask an administrator a direct question, somehow you'd get an answer.

We have seen on a few occasions ....in red, a comment from someone there.......but rarely. Bottom line.....we've had to endure
the same ones saying the same thing 7 days out of the week, and that gets pretty old. Each day, it's "fire Dooley" which convinces most of us that person/those persons have a lot of issues in their lives besides this site.

Anyway, back to Sunseri. This guy will get it done. How many remember his Pitt team in 1983 coming into Neyland Stadium with Dan Marino, Jimbo Covert, Hugh Green, etc? He was an All-American so knows something about the game. It takes some time, but many want the results now, which is why some posters are behaving the way they do.

underthehill writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

RockyMountainVol,

A-men friend. I am very glad to see a few who will stand up for the Vols on this site. We do indeed get enough of the trolls, who once banned.........are allowed through the back door again. No, you have never said anything offensive, and that's why I am totally surprised the KNS staff would do what they did. We have long believed a few of the trolls here are in actuality KNS plants. One would think when you ask an administrator a direct question, somehow you'd get an answer.

We have seen on a few occasions ....in red, a comment from someone there.......but rarely. Bottom line.....we've had to endure
the same ones saying the same thing 7 days out of the week, and that gets pretty old. Each day, it's "fire Dooley" which convinces most of us that person/those persons have a lot of issues in their lives besides this site.

Anyway, back to Sunseri. This guy will get it done. How many remember his Pitt team in 1983 coming into Neyland Stadium with Dan Marino, Jimbo Covert, Hugh Green, etc? He was an All-American so knows something about the game. It takes some time, but many want the results now, which is why some posters are behaving the way they do.

Seems to me KNS has the right to monitor the site they provide free.. I prefer to read comments on the content of articles and avoid the cute comments about sports writers which I think are made by those trying to insinuate they are experts in the field..my thinking is they know about as much about sports as they do sports writing..

underthehill writes:

in response to AtopTheHill06:

The mark of a good o line is how they play in the 4th quarter. In the uga game the Vols o line wore down the vaunted Georgia front seven. Neal was getting five yards a run and on his late TD run, he had a hole the size of Knoxville to run through. I see alot of progress being made by this group.

O line impressed a lot of fans in the Ga game..seems they restored some of the hope lost in the Fla game...

jobrando#216494 writes:

Want to see some bigger holes for Neal to bust some secondary arse

RoadTrip writes:

Yes - they are blocking better. Yes - Coach Pittman is a better O-line coach.

However, the primary reason they are running better is the scheme change. Whenever they lined the RB back 9 yards behind the ball in the pistol or in the deep shotgun to one side of Bray, they do not gain any yards on runs as pointed out by Gary Danielson against UGA. He called the runs before they happened. I posted this several times over a year ago on this and other sites. They ran a version of a sprint draw blocking scheme that gave the appearance of a pass on every play. That is why the O-line was good at pass blocking and sucked at run blocking. SEC D's are too fast and too smart to fall for trick blocking schemes. This year Pitt and Chaney have gone more with standard zone blocking and most of the time line the RB up a normal 6-7 yards from the ball with an H-back and fullback. Those runs are generally successful now that CJG has Neal running the way an SEC back should.

pcshowtime writes:

Everyone on here knows I am as critical of this coaching staff as anyone. But, this is the bright spot of our team. thanks to coach Pittman and the o line. Fix the false starts and keep getting better.
Now for all you dooley devotees this is how a unit improves as the year goes on. Improvement from one game to the next. These guys are being coached up. No excuses, no blaming the players just coaching and getting better. I wish the rest of the team could follow suit. Thank you coach dooley for this hire.

rockypop writes:

The next Fulmer.

rockypop writes:

One of the things that I think gets lost in all the controversy surrounding the football program is how well Chaney is guiding this offense. Some of you may disagree, but now that the Vols are getting SEC type players, this offense is reminding folks what Chaney was able to do with Drew Brees at Purdue.

sameolvolalum writes:

in response to RockyMountainVol_Killed_By_GVX:

The following is a copy of an e-mail sent to the GVX administrator:

I think I understand what's happened here, but I'd surely appreciate some confirmation.

I -- and a lot of other contributors -- are disheartened by your willingness to ban certain offensive contributors, only to allow them back onto your website in as little time as it takes to set up a new username. It's the same handful of people over and over and over again.

So I, being the wiseacre that I am, decided to make my own little protest: I suggested removal of every single comment these guys made... NOT because that any particular comment was necessarily offensive, but because they shouldn't even be allowed on a reasonably-run message board. I figured that, sooner or later, SOMEBODY at GVX might choose to address the underlying issue. If/when GVX administrators addressed the issue, I intended to cease and desist.

And, it appears that somebody did address the issue: they deactivated MY account... because, obviously, I am more offensive to GVX administrators than are the posters who routinely get away with all sorts of off-topic personal attacks on players and coaches.

Yeah, I guess I could do the same that the Jeff Flowers of this world do, and just crank out another username. But you know what? I don't intend to do that OTHER than to post a copy of this e-mail so other contributors can see what's happened. There is not a SINGLE COMMENT that I have ever made on your website that was deemed offensive. All I've done is tick off a board administrator because I had the nerve to repeatedly point out how spineless the administration of this site was. I got too annoying to the brass, so I got flushed just like the trash that repeatedly post offensive material.

If that's your idea of a message board that serves the public, you can have it.

Sincerely,

RockyMountainVol

Amen.

vorangel writes:

RIP RMV!
I for one am tired of you. Thank you KNS...

utbaby#215635 writes:

in response to rockypop:

One of the things that I think gets lost in all the controversy surrounding the football program is how well Chaney is guiding this offense. Some of you may disagree, but now that the Vols are getting SEC type players, this offense is reminding folks what Chaney was able to do with Drew Brees at Purdue.

Hey RP, I'm not ready to say Chaney is guiding this offense, but I have to admit, the GA game was the best he's called. He finally used the running game. So far under Chaney, UT has been a finnese offense. That works against lesser competition, but not in the SEC. I'd still like to see him put two tightends and run downhill on occassion, but the GA game was progress. He actually used screen passes and realized they were goint to blitz. What a concept. Let's hope he can build on this against MSU and SC. And maybe the D give up fewer than 3 big plays.

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