Shuffling. Mixing. Matching. Arranging.
No, Tennessee coaches aren't storing away dri-fit shirts to make room for hoodies and sweats with the changing of the seasons. Rather they're attempting to discover a five-man front that opens holes just wide enough and fends off edge rushers barely long enough for the Vols playmakers to get the advantage.
From quarterback Joshua Dobbs to running back Alvin Kamara and on, the Volunteers have the weaponry to make plays on any defense. Problem is, they need help from blockers to keep from the outstretched arms of the 6-foot-4, 285-pound athletes in charge of burying them under the turf.
Tennessee put up 33.8 points per game in its 7-3 start, including 104 points in its most recent two victories combined. Dobbs, Kamara and sophomore runner John Kelly led the charge in 376 rushing yards in a pivotal win over Kentucky last weekend.
Where the ground game didn't show is in two of the three losses, which may be keeping Tennessee out of the College Football Playoff. In losses to Alabama and South Carolina, the Vols netted a combined 168 rushing yards.
It's not hard to see why the Tennessee offensive line has struggled mightily at times. Six different starting lineups have been used to either patch up injuries or to simply get the best five on the field.
"That's hard because you're moving guys around all the time," second-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. "You know there's little technique things here and there that they've got to adjust to. If it's an even front and you're playing center, you're uncovered. You go to guard, now you're covered. I just think that these guys have really done a nice job of just staying the course with it and working hard at it and just getting better every practice and we've done that."
Through 10 games in 2015, the Vols racked up 2,103 rushing yards. In that same length of stretch thus far this fall, they have just 1,876 yards.
One of the key pieces allowing DeBord, Butch Jones and Don Mahoney to shuffle the pieces is Coleman Thomas, who's started at three different positions.
"He just loves playing the game," DeBord said. "I thought when he started out at guard, I thought did a really good job. Then, when Dylan (Wiesman) went down, he went over to center and again carried it on. Looking at it, it was probably his best game overall; I thought he did a really good job."
Thomas' most recent task was getting the starting nod at right guard versus the Wildcats, which is a position he'd never previously played in orange. Mahoney's cross-training of all his Tennessee blockers allows for such shuffling.
Right tackle Chance Hall didn't dress last week and may not can go against Missouri. Wiesman rolled his ankle against Kentucky and may have to sit out his last home game at Tennessee. What five-man concoction the Vols coaches place on Shields-Watkins Field is yet to be known, but if the unit leads the way for 599 yards of total offense like it did last week, the Vols are in business.
Learn more about the Tennessee blockers by watching the video of Debord above or Jones below.null