John Adams: Offensive line best example of UT's improvement

Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson (74) walks down the ramp to the field before the game against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson (74) walks down the ramp to the field before the game against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Tennessee has a 40-point-size problem on defense, which sometimes can blind you to almost everything else about this team.

In their three losses, the Vols have given up an average of 43 points per game. But while the defense is providing compelling evidence that it could be the worst in school history, UT's offensive line has established itself as perhaps the program's best in eight years.

It's also a good place to look if you want to cite what progress UT has made in two and a half seasons under coach Derek Dooley.

In 2004, the Vols led the SEC in yards rushing per game (186) and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. They haven't come close to that until now — thanks mainly to the five guys leading the way: tackles Antonio Richardson and Ja'Wuan James, guards Dallas Thomas and Zach Fulton, and center James Stone.

The contrast between this season and last is stunning for a unit that has just one senior and a new starter.

The Vols are averaging 183.3 yards per game rushing, more than twice what they averaged per game last season. They're also averaging 4.8 yards per carry, 2 yards per-carry more than last season.

"This is a group that was totally maligned last year," Dooley said at Monday's media conference. "We never lost confidence in what their future held."

Their future has become more promising by the game. In a 51-44 loss to Georgia two weeks ago, the offensive line graded out higher than in any other game of the Dooley era. They were even better in Saturday's 41-31 loss to Mississippi State, prompting Dooley to say, "We ran the ball probably better than we've ever run it against an SEC team."

You can credit UT's passing somewhat for the revived running game since that's usually the first priority of opposing defenses. But the offensive line also deserves some of the credit for the passing success in that the Vols lead the league with only three sacks allowed.

It's the combination of pass protection and run blocking that has distinguished this UT offensive line from those of recent years. The offensive line further enhanced its status against Mississippi State.

Leading rusher Rajion Neal didn't play after the first series of the third quarter because of injury. Marlin Lane, UT's No. 2 running back, was hobbled as well.

The injuries didn't slow UT's running game, though. The Vols rushed for 213 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.

And they accomplished much of that while relying on 5-foot-8, 172-pound running back Devrin Young, who carried 13 times for a career-high 58 yards.

"As an offensive line, we didn't even know (two running backs were hurt)," James said. "Devrin came in; we didn't miss a beat. He was running hard."

UT's offensive line will

get another chance to prove itself the next two Saturdays against Alabama and South Carolina. The Tide is No. 1 nationally in total defense and is allowing only 55.3 yards rushing per game. The Gamecocks are giving up just 2.9 yards rushing per carry and rank fourth nationally in sacks.

But those defenses will face challenges of their own against UT's offensive line.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 25

jandjhome#228397 writes:

First. In case you encounter any smart a'' Bama Fans, remind them how many coaches they went through getting to His Excellency

AZvolFan writes:

The offensive line looks great. In fact the offense as a whole looks pretty good, with the exception of the UF game. Its a shame that the defense is statistically the second worst in the entire SEC. It will probably end up costing Dooley his job.

td writes:

Some thoughts about what's causing the defense to serve like a straw. Could it be: the D-line coach has never before coached in a 3-4 (he said so in a preseason interview); splitting the coaching of corners and safeties (the positions seem to have communication problems); NOT splitting the coaching of inside and outside linebackers which is what it seems the most successful 3-4 programs do. As for the o-line, Sam Pittman and JAY GRAHAM deserve the credit. Not having a dedicated, full time RB coach (GA Fontenot sp?) probably hurt 2010 & 11 production and recruiting of a top tier RB.

globadoc writes:

Correction: Offensive line ONLY example of UT's improvement.

aspenvol2 writes:

Glad to see Adams' medications still holding up.

jobrando#216494 writes:

in response to carbonatedmilk:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree but it would be the upset of the century

underthehill writes:

It's like somebody pulled the switch and the light came on for the offensive line..they are staying with blocks..not just hit & quit like before..they come off the ball hard and seem to know where the ball carrier should be going..best line play in years ...I think so...

utbaby#215635 writes:

in response to td:

Some thoughts about what's causing the defense to serve like a straw. Could it be: the D-line coach has never before coached in a 3-4 (he said so in a preseason interview); splitting the coaching of corners and safeties (the positions seem to have communication problems); NOT splitting the coaching of inside and outside linebackers which is what it seems the most successful 3-4 programs do. As for the o-line, Sam Pittman and JAY GRAHAM deserve the credit. Not having a dedicated, full time RB coach (GA Fontenot sp?) probably hurt 2010 & 11 production and recruiting of a top tier RB.

I'm not suggesting that Pittman and Graham aren't due some credit, but the biggest reason the running game is better is simply that Cheaney is committing to the run more this year. He cost us the FL game and still makes some bonehead calls in my opinion, but clearly Cheaney is learning that you can't be a finese only passing attack in the SEC. This is probably at Dooley's insistance. I do wish someone can explain to me why in the 1st Qtr on UT's second drive when it was 3rd and 1, they threw a 30 yr fade route. If the running game is that good, you can't throw a 30yd pass on 3rd and 1. UT had the ball twice in the first 22 minutes. Yeah the defense is horrible, but you can't give the ball back like that. I'd be OK if UT never punted again. Consider every series 4 down territory. Do what it takes to keep the D off the field.

hooverd283#563729 writes:

Come on Vol Fans! Let's get off the fire Dooley phooey. It hurts recruiting. Give the man four years. We have to trust the system and let it work. I'm frustrated too! But a coaching change this year will do nothing to fix our problems. The pieces are coming together. This coach does not have the luxury of 10 to 15 four and five star recruits to choose from in this state yearly. He recruits in states occupied by our competition. Seriously!!!! Give the man the chance he deserves. Don't watch the games. Don't buy the tickets. Don't come to the games. Come back when the winning reaches the level you desire. I'm not suggesting you are a fair weather fan. Just be happy. Life is to short not to be happy. GO VOLS !!

BigOrangeSports writes:

Just my own personal thoughts on this team.
They have 3 losses against teams ranked in the top 12. Yeah, each could have been a win if either this happened or that happened, but it is what it is. Sometimes things don't go your way. This team has improved over last year's team. The O-Line as discussed in the story above is the biggest example of that. Defense has a LONG ways to go to get close to our Offense as a whole.
CP is awesome. Too bad he will go Pro after this season. Bray showed his toughness has improved Saturday night when he got his knee rolled and got up and carried on and right after a comment on the air about how when he gets his Uni dirty he folds. Justin Hunter is already in the NFL. Last 2 previous seasons he wouldn't have thought twice about getting hit and maybe getting hurt. Saturday night he showed that he wasn't going to take anymore chances for this team. He should be benched now. Palardy has, hopefully, finally figured out what has been his issue and will begin to show why he was the #1 kicker when he was recruited. I am afraid that with people leaving early for the draft that next year's team may struggle more than this year's team is doing. I hope Bray stays another year. He could use the polishing and he will still have some really good rec'rs coming back. Pig Howard will be as good or better than JH when he learns the system and feels more comfortable in the team setting. Z Rogers is another good target for Bray. O-Line will lose only one Senior. This team's Offense can be better next season than this one. Defense can only improve next season and maybe it will take a year or possibly two to get the players to understand the 3-4.
Dooley will NOT be fired after this season, unless he just lays down and quits and I don't see that happening. I think he will give Sal at least one more season to get the Defense in shape to compete and win some of the games we shouldn't have lost this year. My own opinion is that if the Defense was playing 1/3 as good as our Offense is playing, we have no more than 1 loss right now. People can blame Dooley all they want, but Dooley doesn't wave at the ball as it passes by, like JH did. Dooley doesn't play 15 yards off a rec'r in the Secondary. If Dooley gets fired, then we go backwards, not forwards. And UT can't afford to pay a 3rd coach NOT to coach. Everyone has their opinions and this is mine. Support this team the rest of the year. We're still young and undermanned in a lot of positions. No, we're not Vanderbilt, but we aren't Bama this season either.

GBO

utbaby#215635 writes:

in response to hooverd283#563729:

Come on Vol Fans! Let's get off the fire Dooley phooey. It hurts recruiting. Give the man four years. We have to trust the system and let it work. I'm frustrated too! But a coaching change this year will do nothing to fix our problems. The pieces are coming together. This coach does not have the luxury of 10 to 15 four and five star recruits to choose from in this state yearly. He recruits in states occupied by our competition. Seriously!!!! Give the man the chance he deserves. Don't watch the games. Don't buy the tickets. Don't come to the games. Come back when the winning reaches the level you desire. I'm not suggesting you are a fair weather fan. Just be happy. Life is to short not to be happy. GO VOLS !!

Yeah, what he said.

The_Mayor writes:

The O line is the foundation of any football team...and we have a great one...probably the best in the SEC at the very least. It is our foundation...the slab upon which everything else is built. A solid offensive line opens up the running game...which opens up the passing game. A solid offensive line allows for sustained, long drives, dominating time of possession and keeping the defense off the field and rested. Dooley knows this. He has not yet had the resources to be able to bring in the physical athletes required to play defense at the SEC's highest level. He was handed a program in shambles with limited scholarships and no one to recruit. We have a foundation, and we are building our program on it. Be patient and let Coach Dooley build. He deserves the chance...a fair chance. Patience. To cut now would be such a blow to any stability that has been built since the Kiffin debacle. Patience. And in the meantime, be supportive, rather than quick to criticize. I bleed orange, and have for nearly a half century. I would never settle for average and certainly not inferiority. But sometimes in life you have to realize that in time coal transforms into diamonds. Let this man have his fair chance. Peace.

Tau_of_Tennessee writes:

in response to BigOrangeSports:

Just my own personal thoughts on this team.
They have 3 losses against teams ranked in the top 12. Yeah, each could have been a win if either this happened or that happened, but it is what it is. Sometimes things don't go your way. This team has improved over last year's team. The O-Line as discussed in the story above is the biggest example of that. Defense has a LONG ways to go to get close to our Offense as a whole.
CP is awesome. Too bad he will go Pro after this season. Bray showed his toughness has improved Saturday night when he got his knee rolled and got up and carried on and right after a comment on the air about how when he gets his Uni dirty he folds. Justin Hunter is already in the NFL. Last 2 previous seasons he wouldn't have thought twice about getting hit and maybe getting hurt. Saturday night he showed that he wasn't going to take anymore chances for this team. He should be benched now. Palardy has, hopefully, finally figured out what has been his issue and will begin to show why he was the #1 kicker when he was recruited. I am afraid that with people leaving early for the draft that next year's team may struggle more than this year's team is doing. I hope Bray stays another year. He could use the polishing and he will still have some really good rec'rs coming back. Pig Howard will be as good or better than JH when he learns the system and feels more comfortable in the team setting. Z Rogers is another good target for Bray. O-Line will lose only one Senior. This team's Offense can be better next season than this one. Defense can only improve next season and maybe it will take a year or possibly two to get the players to understand the 3-4.
Dooley will NOT be fired after this season, unless he just lays down and quits and I don't see that happening. I think he will give Sal at least one more season to get the Defense in shape to compete and win some of the games we shouldn't have lost this year. My own opinion is that if the Defense was playing 1/3 as good as our Offense is playing, we have no more than 1 loss right now. People can blame Dooley all they want, but Dooley doesn't wave at the ball as it passes by, like JH did. Dooley doesn't play 15 yards off a rec'r in the Secondary. If Dooley gets fired, then we go backwards, not forwards. And UT can't afford to pay a 3rd coach NOT to coach. Everyone has their opinions and this is mine. Support this team the rest of the year. We're still young and undermanned in a lot of positions. No, we're not Vanderbilt, but we aren't Bama this season either.

GBO

Excellant post...voice of reason. No verdict is due till after year four. I am sure if we had the cash for a super star coach it would have come out three years ago. The team keeps fighting. Results will follow.

cloudodust writes:

Nice read on the O-line but in order to compete in this league, all phases, all positions on both sides of the ball (let's not forget Special Teams) need to gel as a team. The solution is what and why the coaches get paid the big bucks and the recruiters work extra hard. One phase coming together does not a champion make...It takes a TEAM.

RodneyHopper writes:

Lets see the improvement in the game this week,as i love my vols I hope we can turn this around for all the volnation.but having said that as i watch every game since age 5 we have to start now not next week not next year now!!!!!!if dooley is the man for the job fine,if not we dont have to take the back seat anymore.we have 102,000 seats and loyal fans across this great country!i drive 400 miles to the games.what can we do as big orange fans to help with whatever is wrong??lets awake a sleeping giant.

dvol writes:

I can't understand why everyone thinks Bray will go Pro next year. What has he done against a good defense to show he is a Pro QB. Saturday will be his first game against Alabama. My guess is it will be a long day for him and vols. I will say that our offense has improved. But, our defense and kicking game are awful. I don't pretend to know what is wrong with our defense other than they don't seem to have the fire their coach has. They just seem to go through the motions. They don't tackle very well and they can't cover receivers. I have never seen a Tennessee Defense play this bad. The only thing worst than the defense is the kicking game. Doesn't anybody know how to coach kickers on this staff? So, by my count 2 out of 3 things are terrible on this team. Keep D.D. if you want but be prepared for more hard times this year and beyond. Somebody answer me this question how do coaches at other schools go in and turn things around in a year or two (Fl. Ole Miss, West Va. North Carolina) just to name a few and were sitting here with some of the best facilities in the country and we need to be patient with every coach we hire?

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Bray I'm sure has had pro scouts watching him, Patterson and probably all our O-line. I honestly don't think they're impressed with Hunter. He doesn't seem to be able to catch some of Bray's hard throws. Now I believe he's good but Bray sometimes throws it through the receiver and not just to them.lol I'm not blaming Bray because the great receivers catch it and make the QB look good.
Scouts have to be at least interested in Bray and CP. Hunter too I guess. I hope they only notice our senior lineman.

Good luck to all on their future whatever is done. But if they return next year that has to be good for UT. To hang with a couple of top ten teams ain't bad and even our defense has had a tough school to learn 3-4. They've been up against in the losses at least arguably some of the best QBs and offenses out there.
Example. Look how good Florida has turned out. Georgia's defense isn't any better than ours but Murray and offense is pretty darn good except that one game.

Point is that if we're patient with our coaches who're learning as well as our team is learning, then they should be much better in the future. The coaches that is. Team's already getting better.lol

Sunseri I hope you know what you're doing...or not doing. I can't say I like seeing kids yelled at but it doesn't hurt them. I'm hoping YOU don't fall over in a game. Personally I like your obvious passion for the D. We'll probably see how it turns out soon. Maybe this weekend some of those D linemen will realize it's not just pushing the o-line but they have to watch the ball too. Fill up those holes the O-lines been making. I sure would like to see some pressure on these opposing QBs.

Golly JA I guess I'm less optimistic than you today! Yes our O-lines good and maybe great this year.

AlpharettaVol writes:

Once again our schedule is killing is. While I ( like everyone else) am dying with every loss, we really haven't lost any game we were predicted to win. Look at our losses: Florida is now 2 in the BCS, Georgia was ranked 5 when we played them and Miss St is now lurking just outside the top 10. Now we have to play Alabama (number 1) and S Carolina (top 5). Not many teams would be faring much better if they had to face this killer's row so early in the season. It's just one of the down sides of playing in the toughest conference in the nation. It would be interesting to see what our record would be if we were in the ACC or the Big 10. I think we would be singing a different tune.

calvol writes:

It's about time somebody pointed out just how good this offense, and especially the O line is. On Neal's TD in the 1st quarter, one of the linemen got out on a linebacker, absolutely smothered and pancaked him while Neal ran right by him into the endzone. Doing a great job boys, GBO!

Now, about that defense....

WelovePat writes:

in response to hooverd283#563729:

Come on Vol Fans! Let's get off the fire Dooley phooey. It hurts recruiting. Give the man four years. We have to trust the system and let it work. I'm frustrated too! But a coaching change this year will do nothing to fix our problems. The pieces are coming together. This coach does not have the luxury of 10 to 15 four and five star recruits to choose from in this state yearly. He recruits in states occupied by our competition. Seriously!!!! Give the man the chance he deserves. Don't watch the games. Don't buy the tickets. Don't come to the games. Come back when the winning reaches the level you desire. I'm not suggesting you are a fair weather fan. Just be happy. Life is to short not to be happy. GO VOLS !!

GREAT POST!!! AGREED!!!

bfowler1161#262198 writes:

Have to agree the OL is really looking good. Backs are running hard behind them, always good. I am not sure we have a true TB that can take it home anytime he touches it.

TrouserCough writes:

They could only improve after the last two years

TrouserCough writes:

Dooley, "we never lost confidence in what the future held", in reference to he and his wife's comfort with a large contractual buyout.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to TrouserCough:

Dooley, "we never lost confidence in what the future held", in reference to he and his wife's comfort with a large contractual buyout.

Makes you wonder why he'd not try to get fired? However I believe he came here to do a job and intends to see it done i.e. to put Tennessee back in the upper echelon of Football.

murrayvol writes:

in response to TrouserCough:

Dooley, "we never lost confidence in what the future held", in reference to he and his wife's comfort with a large contractual buyout.

Throwing up in your pants again TC?

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