Banged-up O-line shines

Tennessee's offensive linemen are hurting but they're hurting opposing defenses even worse.

UT players have won three of the six SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week awards given so far, which makes you wonder: How well could these guys play if they ever get healthy?

Nicks and bruises are commonplace for O-linemen but the Vol blocking front has had to play through a glut of significant injuries in recent weeks. Consider what the Big Orange linemen had to endure last Saturday against Georgia:

• Starting right tackle Arron Sears was supposed to miss the game with a sprained ankle. Albert Toeaina, recently activated following a severely bruised knee, started in Sears' place.

• Starting left tackle Michael Munoz bruised a knee during the first half, forcing Sears into the lineup. He wound up playing most of the second half.

• Starting right guard Cody Douglas suffered a second-half foot injury that put him on the bench and put Richie Gandy in the lineup.

• Starting center Jason Respert played every snap despite an ankle injury. So did left guard Rob Smith, who was healthy enough to register 17 ''knockdown'' blocks. That earned him SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors, a distinction previously bestowed on Respert and Munoz.

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is amazed that the blocking front performed so well against Georgia despite so much shuffling of personnel.

''I'd call a play and look at the huddle, and there was a different five in there every time,'' he recalled. ''Some of them were playing positions they hadn't really practiced that much.'''

Smith believes this offensive line is deeper than fans realize.

''Arron got hurt but Albert got his first start and played great,'' Smith noted. ''Richie came in and played great. We've got seven or eight guys who can really play.''

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