Crowder has 'a gift'

InsideTennessee brings you the best coverage of the Tennessee Vols. Scroll down to read a story on Mack Crowder, who will likely start for the Vols at center next season.

For offensive linemen, there's a factor that can't be measured by a bench press max, stat sheet numbers or sheer size.

And often times, it's this factor that separates the good linemen from the great.

"You just can't teach a nasty streak," Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "As much as you try to, that's just a gift."

Playing with a chip on your shoulder, grinding to the whistle – and sometimes past it, finishing, straining – all are factors Mahoney says make up a "nasty streak."

And all are factors Mahoney uses to describe the play of Mack Crowder, the Vols' likely starting center next season.

"His mindset, it's what you want," Mahoney told InsideTennessee. "As a coach, it's really all you can ask for."

Mahoney is the first to recognize the challenge he faces next season as he's tasked with replacing all five starters. But he's also confident Crowder is as ready as any to anchor the young and inexperienced group.

"He has waited his time, and he's more than ready," Mahoney said. "He can't wait for his opportunity. He's hungry."

Hunger, obviously, is a good thing. But there's a line.

Mahoney said his biggest concern with Crowder is too much hunger, too much want.

"We don't need him to come in here and be Zach (Fulton) or Ja'Wuan (James), we just need him to come in and be himself," Mahoney said. "He feels like he needs to prove himself to everyone every day and sometimes that can cloud his game. You have to channel that hunger."

That said, Mahoney would rather have an over zealous player than the opposite.

"Don't get me wrong, I love the passion," he said. "We just have to work to tone it down, which is much easier to do than trying to get someone to play with it."

Crowder – who will be a redshirt junior next season – is far from experienced, but he did see his fair share of playing time last fall. The Tennessee (Tenn.) High School product appeared in eight games and earned his first start against South Carolina.

Crowder also played in two games as a redshirt freshman in 2012.

As far as measurable intangibles go, Mahoney said Crowder has always played fundamentally sound, citing solid footwork and balance.

"He's just solid," Mahoney said. "He's going to be a solid, solid player for us – a grinder."

The only concern with Crowder is size. At 6-foot-2. 280-pounds, he's not as long as the ideal up-tempo offensive linemen.

Crowder's goals during the offseason are gaining weight and improving agility.

"Sure, he has to improve some overall body weight stuff, but his mindset is there," Mahoney said. "That's what you're looking for."

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