Sanders likes patchwork line

Tennessee's football team will open the season Saturday with its top two centers on the sidelines, its projected left guard playing center for the first time in his life and a redshirt freshman serving as an emergency fill-in at left guard.

Even so, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders feels his attack unit is prepared heading into Game 1 against Alabama-Birmingham.

"I think we're ready," he said Tuesday afternoon. "We've had a productive camp. Now we have to go out and put it all together. We're starting to get some continuity up front with the different centers we've had and the different combinations. That's set us back a little but I think we'll be ready to show up and play on Saturday."

Although the loss of centers Richie Gandy (knee) and David Ligon (ankle) to preseason injuries hurt, at least they went down early enough that the Vols had time to adjust. That was a plus.

"Sure," Sanders said. "I'm glad it didn't happen late last week. I hate that those guys got hurt but at lest they got hurt early."

With Gandy and Ligon sidelined, Tennessee moved Rob Smith from left guard to center. He handled most of the snaps in preseason scrimmages No. 2 and No. 3, proving himself to be more than adequate.

"I think Rob will do fine," Sanders said. "You know Rob's going to battle and compete. He's played a lot. He's never played with a ball in his hands, so it'll be a little different for him, but I expect him to do well."

With Smith moving to the middle of the line, redshirt freshman Ramon Foster was thrust into the void at left guard. He's a 6-6, 340-pounder with tons of potential. Having a guy like him available is crucial.

"It's very important," Sanders said. "One thing we (coaches) talked about over the summer was that we had some depth in the offensive line. We just didn't know we were going to have to use so much of it at this point. We're fortunate to have guys like Ramon step up. But there's no doubt that once David Ligon and Richie Gandy get back we'll be a much better football team all the way around."

Saturday's starting line will be as follows: Albert Toeaina and Arron Sears at tackle, Foster and Cody Douglas at guard, Smith at center. With Ligon and Gandy sidelined, the depth behind the first five is a little thin. Redshirt freshman Anthony Parker, the top sub at center, may also help at guard. Ell Ash also could help at guard, while Eric Young appears likely to get first call off the bench at tackle.

"I think we've got seven, maybe eight guys that you'd feel pretty good about playing in the game," Sanders said. "Most years you hope to have seven. We have seven, maybe even eight with two guys out. We're fortunate that way."


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