Fulmer wants fewer 'pushers'

When Tennessee head football coach Phil Fulmer talks about having too many "pushers" on his offensive line, he isn't referring to the sleazy guys who try to move drugs in the back alleys. He's referring to bulky guys who try to move defensive linemen in the trenches.

Minus three full-time starters and one part-time starter from the 2005 blocking front, Fulmer had to rely heavily on young offensive linemen during spring practice. Most of them excelled in high school on superior size, rather than superior technique. That's why they still have a lot to learn at the college level.

"Most of them in high school were big guys … pushers who didn't really have to knock anybody around," Fulmer said recently.

The Vol head man is hoping some of these pushers become blockers between now and Sept. 2, when the Vols host California in the 2006 season opener.

Asked to identify the biggest struggle for young offensive linemen, Fulmer answered without hesitation.

"Just learning to play at the speed of the defensive linemen they're going to face," he said. "It's rare to get a guy like Arron Sears, who came in here with the speed and strength. The biggest adjustment is to the speed and strength of the game."

Tennessee's defensive linemen generally outplayed their offensive counterparts during spring practice. Given the inexperience along the blocking front, Fulmer wasn't terribly surprised by that turn of events.

"It's a lot different playing on (senior defensive tackle) Justin Harrell than on somebody who's playing his last game his senior year of high school," the coach noted.

In an effort to get their five best blockers on the field at once, Fulmer and line coach Greg Adkins looked at a lot of personnel groupings during spring practice. Some of the groupings featured David Ligon at center. Some of them had Michael Frogg at center. Some of them had Josh McNeil at center. Some of them had Sears at guard. Some of them had Sears at tackle. You get the idea.

Asked how close he is to determining which guys constitute his best grouping, Fulmer hedged:

"Coach Adkins and I have a good idea about the combinations we can use."

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