Fulmer likes O-line

No one knows offensive line play better than Phillip Fulmer, who played the position and coached the position before becoming Tennessee's head man in 1993. So when Fulmer says the Vols' 2005 line can be exceptional, you tend to believe him.

And that's precisely what Fulmer said at the recent SEC Media Days.

"Our offensive line, I expect to be as good as we've had at Tennessee," he said.

The bell cow of the line is left tackle Arron Sears, a 6-4, 330-pound junior with all-world potential.

"Arron Sears is a great football player," Fulmer said. "Not a good one; he's a GREAT football player."

The guy next to Sears isn't too shabby, either. Rob Smith is a 6-4, 306-pounder who has become a fixture at left guard. He was the only Vol lineman to start every game in 2004.

"Rob is a junior captain, which tells you what the rest of the team thinks of him in terms of his ability and his toughness," Fulmer said. "I am excited about him."

The return to health of right guard Cody Douglas is huge for the Vols. A two-year starter, the 6-4, 330-pound senior started just one of Tennessee's last eight games last season due to nagging injuries.

"Cody needs to be 100 percent well for us at right guard," Fulmer said.

Rounding out the first-team blocking wall are two players who have progressed dramatically since last fall – 6-6, 355-pound right tackle Albert Toeaina and 6-5, 300-pound center David Ligon.

"Albert Toeaina has improved 100 percent since last year, when he came in from junior college and had very little idea about fundamentals and techniques," Fulmer recalled. "I am hopeful that he will be a big-time player for us."

Ligon was voted co-most improved offensive player of spring practice. To keep his job, however, he must hold off a challenge from 6-5, 312-pound senior Richie Gandy, who was projected as the starter until he tore an ACL last spring.

"Our center is questionable right now," Fulmer conceded. "Richie Gandy hurt his knee playing pick-up basketball in the off-season, and it is a concern right now whether he will be back for the opening game, the second game or just when he will get back. He's ahead of schedule, though.

"David Ligon has done a tremendous job of getting himself ready to participate. He took advantage of all the work he got in the spring. Right now I will be comfortable with him being our center."

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