Mike Strange: UT offensive line coach Sam Pittman navigating SEC defenses

Mike Strange
Tennessee offensive line coach Sam Pittman congratulates his players after a Vols touchdown in the third quarter 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 line coach Sam Pittman congratulates his players after a Vols touchdown in the third quarter against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Tennessee football practice on Oct. 31, 2012

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Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2012

Checking in with Sam Pittman, I wondered what Tennessee's new offensive line coach was thinking about his maiden voyage through the SEC.

Was the nation's toughest conference everything he expected it to be?

"Everything?'' Pittman said Wednesday. "No. It was more.''

Through 25 years and 13 jobs, mostly in the Midwest, Pittman has seen his share of big, violent bodies trying to dislodge each other in trench warfare.

He's done the MAC, the Big 12 and most recently the ACC at North Carolina.

That was a prelude to a season where he's had to challenge three defenses ranked in the top 13 nationally — Alabama, Florida and South Carolina — plus Mississippi State (28) and Georgia (38).

"I didn't know the league was going to be so darn good on the defensive line,'' Pittman said.

"I'd always heard about it, but when they throw somebody else in there that didn't even start that might be better than the guy in front of him ..."

It is both to Pittman's relief and to his credit that Tennessee has not backed down in any case.

The offensive line is, collectively, the MVP of UT's season.

OK, they didn't exactly knock Alabama's block off. Name somebody who has.

Otherwise, the Vols have moved the ball well enough that this team should not be 0-5 in the league as the calendar turns to November.

Pittman inherited good material. Four starters returned from a 2011 unit that was somehow never as effective as it should have been, especially in the run game.

And the new starter was Tiny Richardson, a special talent lacking only experience. Richardson no longer lacks that.

"Tiny wouldn't be ready to play Jadeveon Clowney the first two or three weeks,'' Pittman said, "but he was on Saturday.''

Despite the killer lineup of defenses UT has faced, quarterback Tyler Bray has been sacked only four times. The run game has upgraded from pitiful to at least run-of-the-mill, averaging 69 more yards per game than last year.

Offensive coordinator

Jim Chaney sees a unit playing with confidence.

"Sam brings energy and a love for the players,'' Chaney said. "That's paramount in college football.

"He's a good football coach and a good human being. Usually, they work hand in hand.''

When Pittman took over last winter and watched video he had a clue why UT could not run the ball.

Technique, talent and size were all accounted for. But tempo was missing.

"We weren't playing fast enough,'' he said.

"Speed becomes explosion which becomes power. Some of the techniques are the same, some are different. But playing fast gave us a chance to play physical and the guys bought into it.''

UT's run game improved to the point of being robust at Georgia (197 yards) and Mississippi State (213).

But then Alabama was tough sledding. Pittman said South Carolina was a low point of the season.

Getting right guard Zach Fulton back Saturday against Troy will be a plus. Getting Rajion Neal healthy at tailback will help, too.

"We're going back to the drawing board,'' Pittman said, "making a big emphasis.

"We're not (just) a pass-protection offensive line.''

Not this year.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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

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Comments » 31

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Pittman may be the best coach on the staff..I wish CDD would have looked at UNC's DC as well..JAT.

RaineyVol writes:

Pittman is legit! we have to keep this guy! everyone on our line will be playing on Sundays

laraccoon writes:

Its odd they couldnt figure that tempo problem with the O line out last year . that really makes me wonder how coaches that make that kind of coin could spend that much time with those players and not have more of a clue what was up ,and i aint agin Dooley .

SignalMtnVol writes:

Regardless of the outcome of the Dooley experiment, Pittman and Graham need to stay. They have provided the kind of improvement we have looked for as a team, overall.

SignalMtnVol writes:

in response to carbonatedmilk:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Agree....except for Chaney. Gotta go with Dooley and the Alabama LB coach.

pcorange writes:

This is one coach on this team that Tennessee absolutely needs to keep. The turnaround on this O-line from last year to this year is nothing short of remarkable. Wish we had more coaches of his caliber.

dvhill100 writes:

Certainly based on improvement and production, Coach Pittman is the best of the coaching staff.

Rumblefish writes:

Coach Pittman,

You've done a great job. I hope you don't lose it after the season's end due to Dooley.

I sincerely hope you stay on with the new coaching staff that comes in.

TKO writes:

Keep pittman. Offensive line is the bright spit on this team.Maybe a good interim coach!

TKO writes:

spot

Prostar writes:

Remember last year when we had rushing figures in the single digits or minus yards rushing. I'll take a 69 yard-per-game increase as a starting point. We still need a big blocking fullback and a big between the tackles runner. But I concur, Sam Pittman has done a good job and needs to be retained.

lomas98 writes:

There seem to be more people with sources in Knoxville who are just regular joes. The media don't even have these sources. Why is it these drama queen fans know gruden is coming here, but not one real journalist does? Someone please explain.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to RaineyVol:

Pittman is legit! we have to keep this guy! everyone on our line will be playing on Sundays

I like Pit also. But I believe these are mostly Dooley recruits. Give some credit where it is due.

orange_eVOLution writes:

Sam Pittman is the shiz. He gets it done. The O-line is the best improvement on this team.

dvols writes:

TN is a stud RB and an average SEC defense away from just having one loss this year.....

orange_eVOLution writes:

in response to dvols:

TN is a stud RB and an average SEC defense away from just having one loss this year.....

This!

VolinCalif writes:

Well guys I don't like to sound like a bitter old self pitted man. But tonight that is what I am. I've pretty much been put out to pasture for some time, but this is the first time in my nearly 80 years that I've not been allowed to participate in my favorite holiday. Not even to give a little one a Tootsie roll. Yes I'm hurt. I've lost something far more painful than seeing UT have a losing season. But I can wish you and yours a happy holiday and more to come this year. Kiss them good night and insure them there are those that care.
Good night all.

Gmoney58 writes:

in response to orange_eVOLution:

This!

Agreed.
Sry for the long drawn out comment.

VolFanInTheBoro (Inactive) writes:

in response to lomas98:

There seem to be more people with sources in Knoxville who are just regular joes. The media don't even have these sources. Why is it these drama queen fans know gruden is coming here, but not one real journalist does? Someone please explain.

because they make it up

usafvol writes:

Good morning Vol fans! Although we haven't had the year we hoped for, how about we show a little support and appreciation to all players and coaches for putting in those long hours and doing the best job they can? Trust me, the coaches hate losing more than us fans do and they're working as hard as they can trying to produce a good product. Many on here HATE our coaches (especially CDD) but you have to understand the man is doing his best. How about a little appreciation for the effort at least? It's bad enough having other teams fans hating on us, we don't need to do that to ourselves!

calvol writes:

Pittman and the OLine have been superb, definitely MVP's. Last year's run game scapegoat, Coach Harry H seems to be doing a good job at Notre Dame though. Maybe the boys have finally just matured a little.

Sir_Spanky writes:

in response to Rumblefish:

Coach Pittman,

You've done a great job. I hope you don't lose it after the season's end due to Dooley.

I sincerely hope you stay on with the new coaching staff that comes in.

Yep. Graham also.

pcorange writes:

in response to usafvol:

Good morning Vol fans! Although we haven't had the year we hoped for, how about we show a little support and appreciation to all players and coaches for putting in those long hours and doing the best job they can? Trust me, the coaches hate losing more than us fans do and they're working as hard as they can trying to produce a good product. Many on here HATE our coaches (especially CDD) but you have to understand the man is doing his best. How about a little appreciation for the effort at least? It's bad enough having other teams fans hating on us, we don't need to do that to ourselves!

I certainly don't hate our coaches. Coach Dooley, in my opinion, is a fine man and has done his best to try to build this team in a way that would make Tennessee proud. I don't think he is the right man for the job, and that is based strictly on the fact that he hasn't beaten anybody that counts and I haven't seen any evidence at all that he is going to be able to take Tennessee back to where it belongs. That isn't personal, it's just that I put my love for UT football above my like for Coach Dooley. Football coaches understand that football is a business. Whether we agree with that philosophically or not is irrelevant, it is a business. In business, you either meet your expected performance indicators or you get fired. Same with football coaches, and they know that when they take the gig. Some people on here may hate our coaches, but I certainly don't.

pcshowtime writes:

Graham and pittman would be great to keep on staff if we get a new head coach. However do not get to upset if they don't. Remember David cuclife was going to take the UT when kiffen left but hamilton said he had to keep some of kiffens staff. That is how we hired dooley. Head coaches many times like to bring in their on staff. These high profile coaches like complete control of the football program. That being said maybe whoever comes in will see what a good job they did and hire them but if they don't someone will.

usafvol writes:

in response to dooleyslosers:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Going on a website to cry and complain is hardly "fighting for what's best" as you put it..

usafvol writes:

in response to dooleyslosers:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It's evident you know very little about football. So it's Dooley's fault recievers are dropping passes, his fault they're in position to make tackles but they don't. All missed assignments, blocks and tackles are his fault too huh? While he is the head coach and he is responsible for what the team does, you're a fool if you think the passes Hunter has dropped or all the tackles that have been missed are directly CDD's fault. I'll admit many players are out of position many times on defense but hey, it happens with a new defense. It's seems that everyone else in the country can understand this except for a few Vol fans.

usafvol writes:

in response to dooleyslosers:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yes doofus, those things are coaches fault. The key word here is "coaches". Do you really think that the head coach calls all the plays? Thats what coordiators are for! As for being a fan, I'm a fan of the team and I want to win as much as anyone on here but I don't think that the failures can all be attributed to CDD. The offense is leaps and bounds better that it was when he took over. We changed to a new defense (not sure why) but it happed just the same. I'm not an expert but there are many who all say that changing to a different defense takes time. Do you think i'm making this stuff up? Do a little research; you'd be amazed at what you can learn with a little effort!

usafvol writes:

in response to 45ReVOLver:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Probably a combination of both; good recruits and good coaching. Pit seems to be the real deal..

usafvol writes:

in response to 45ReVOLver:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No matter how hard I tried, I could never achieve your stupidity! I think you're a spoiled little moma's boy who just never grew up. You like to talk down to people but it only shows what a moron you really are. UT alumni huh; ever heard the term "educated idiot": that's you little boy..

carbonzip writes:

It may have been said before, but, Mr. Pittman might have good advice for the UT defense as to their weaknesses.

UTVolWarrior98 writes:

usafvol is probably one of the soccer Moms that went over to the rock and spray painted pictures of rainbows, smiley faces and flower pedals over the "Fire Dooley" remarks lol

God our fanbase is soft...

HONOR THY VOLS..CHERISH THEM...

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