'Long way to go'

Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms recently described the Vols' Game 1 offensive line play as "awesome." Line coach Harry Hiestand wasn't quite so generous in his assessment.

"We've got a long way to go," he said this week. "I've got a lot of work to do on our fundamentals, being more consistent in our assignments. The challenge we have is to try and get a little better every week. That's what we expect."

The fact Tennessee averaged 7.7 yards per carry and surrendered just one sack in its 50-0 Game 1 blowout of UT Martin suggests the blockers did a good job. Hiestand puts very little stock in the stat sheet, however.

"It's not meaningless but I don't pay much attention to it," he said. "We pay attention to each snap: Is the player doing what we're asking him to do? Is he fundamentally sound? That's what we challenge them to do, and that wasn't anywhere near where it needs to be."

In terms of eligibility at least, Tennessee features a balanced line - starting one true freshman, one redshirt freshman, one sophomore, one junior and one senior. Only senior guard Jarrod Shaw (three starts in September of 2009) had started a college game prior to last Saturday.

Although the Big Orange blockers are painfully young and inexperienced, they are bright and determined. Hiestand is understandably proud of how far they've come since spring practice.

"I think they've embraced the work ethic of Coach (Derek) Dooley's program in terms of discipline, toughness, attention to detail and bringing it every day," Hiestand said. "I think they're doing what Coach Dooley is challenging them to do. That's the biggest growth I've seen. I like how they're trying to do what the program is asking them to do."

Tennessee takes a major step up in class this weekend - going from Football Championship Subdivision foe UT Martin to an Oregon team that is ranked No. 7 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. There are sure to be some growing pains. There are sure to be more growing pains when the Vols encounter SEC foes Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

Hiestand recognizes that there are some hard lessons ahead of his blockers this season. But he also recognizes that there are some encouraging signs for the future of his baby-faced crew. Upside, for instance.

"Just the youth and the fact we're working with guys that are going to be around three and four years. That's a positive," he said. "If you'd had all six of those (senior) guys here from last year, you'd have done all this work, and then they'd have been gone."

Except for Shaw, every player on Tennessee's O-line roster projects to be back next season. Hiestand finds that a pleasant prospect, noting:

"I like having the ability to try to help them be the best they can be through a progression of getting better."

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