'Tiny' ready for large contributions

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When opposing Southeastern Conference fans are tossing rocks at your bus, he's the guy you want to step off first to hush the crowd and inform them that this particular Saturday is not going to be a walk in the park for their bunch.

Standing in at 6-foot-6, 329 pounds, Antonio Richardson passes the look test. Fact of the matter is that the Mt. Pleasant, Tenn., native started looking the part of an SEC athlete years ago.

Now, after missing much of his senior season at Ensworth (Tenn.) High School and having to sit almost his entire freshman season at Tennessee, "Tiny" Richardson's time has come.

He did play in all 12 games last season, but that was predominantly special teams work with a few snaps at both fullback and backup left tackle.

The starter out wide on that side for 25 straight games has been Dallas Thomas, who is now entering his fifth year on campus.

Coach Derek Dooley, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and first-year offensive line coach Sam Pittman worked a way to keep Thomas in the lineup, while also getting the U.S. Army All-American on the field by sliding Thomas inside to left guard.

"I think we made a good move there," Dooley said Friday. "I think it's going to pay off."

The move appears to be benefitting Thomas as well, who is one of the few holdovers remaining from former coach Phillip Fulmer's regime.

"I think it has been a great move for Dallas," Pittman said. "A great move. He is a natural at guard. Obviously we are trying to get Tiny ready for the fall. Our team got better when Dallas moved inside."

The well-chronicled No. 1 priority this spring for the Vol offense is improving the ground game. A shakeup up front certainly can't hurt after the Big Orange ranked 116th in the country in 2011 by averaging 90.1 rushing yards per game. Richardson, who is considered the strongest player on the roster, should help get that push up front to extend drives by opening holes and protecting quarterback Tyler Bray's backside.

"(Richardson) looks like a big, athletic guy who has taken 40 snaps in his career," Pittman said. "That's what he looks like. He is very talented, very physical. There are a lot of things we need to work on with him, as well as a lot of other guys. There was a reason everyone in the country wanted him, and we're glad we have him."

To see what Richardson had to say on camera following Tennessee's first scrimmage of the spring at Neyland Stadium on Friday, click play below:

Danny Parker is currently the Associate Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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