Vols seek offensive identity

In recent years, Tennessee has had trouble finding itself on offense because the Vols have not been able to find their identity. Are the Vols trying to be a power running team? A finesse team? A pass-oriented team? A combination of the three?

From one week to the next, you weren't sure the direction of Tennessee's offense. At times, the Vols weren't, either.

The one thing they haven't been in the 2000s is a power running team.

That's one reason you hear coach Phillip Fulmer say he wants to have a more physical offense. He wants to convert in short-yardage situations. He wants to push it into the end zone inside the 10. He wants to control the line of scrimmage and the clock.

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has the same goals. But he's smart enough to know you can't fit a square peg into a round hole. So, with one spring behind him and August drills upcoming, Cutcliffe must decipher what offensive approach best suits his personnel this season.

Cutcliffe said that decision also involves Tennessee defense. Do you anticipate having to score 30 points to win a game or will 17 do?

``The thing we've got to finally decide – and maybe people think this should already be decided – is what kind of football team are we going to be,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I'm not just talking about just offense. I'm talking about once we line up and put our football team together, kicking game included, what do we have to do to be successful?

``Are we going to throw the ball down the field more and be much more aggressive and try to use our big, strong receivers down the field? Are we going to try to increase our average per catch and per attempt and not worry as much about completion percentage? Are we going to be laying the ball off a lot?

``Yes, you can do both, but you've got to have something you believe in. I'm not ready to make that decision. Ultimately, coach Fulmer will make that decision. We're trying to figure out how to win every game we play. A lot of that depends on what we think we've got to do offensively to win games.''

Tennessee coaches are on a retreat this week in Georgia in search of those answers. They'll try to decide if the offensive line can run block against California and Florida and Georgia. They'll try to decide if Erik Ainge will be accurate enough to hit some long balls. They'll try to decide if the defensive front seven can stop the run and pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Some of those answers will be more evident after August drills. Some won't be known until games are played.

From week to week, you might see a different offensive approach from Tennessee based on the opponent.

But that, Cutcliffe says, is the beauty of having a flexible offense.

``There are certain (opposing) teams where you have to play much more wide open and much more aggressive,'' Cutcliffe said. ``It changes.

``If we go into certain games feeling like we've got to score bunch of points to win, we're going to throw it around to do it. That's the fun part of it to me -- this offense has the ability to be a chameleon. It's got the ability to change. We could be in four wides, five wides for two series, then go back around and be in three tight ends and run it down your throat.''

You haven't seen Tennessee running it down the throats of too many opponents in recent years. But Fulmer said he's got three linemen that stack up with any three in the SEC: Arron Sears, Eric Young and David Ligon. He needs Ramon Foster, Anthony Parker, Michael Frogg, Steven Jones, Josh McNeil and Chris Scott to emerge.

Moreover, Fulmer said he expects true freshman Jacques McClendon to be in the two-deep rotation along the line.

Fulmer said he's not as concerned about his line as some because he thinks the ability is there.

If that's true, then Tennessee might be able to get a push on the line that has been absent so often since 2000.

And if you can field a productive offensive line, you can find your identity.

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