Massive mauler

Believe it or not, the Tennessee Volunteers rank 10th among the 12 Southeastern Conference schools in rushing. They average just 106.2 ground yards per game, nearly 20 yards behind ninth-place Alabama.

Injuries to tailbacks Arian Foster and LaMarcus Coker haven't helped but the main reason for the rushing attack's struggles is that the offensive line has struggled to open holes on a consistent basis. Help may be on the way, however, and his name is Jacques McClendon.

The 6-3, 325-pound freshman from Chattanooga hasn't played much this season but he has been improving dramatically on the practice field. Earlier this week, with first-team right guard Ramon Foster nursing an injury, McClendon got some repetitions with the first-team offense and showed he may belong there.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer noted that McClendon "ran some with the first team because Anthony Parker had a little ding going on, and we never missed a beat. That's what you like to see. Actually, he looked REALLY good."

A former High School All-American, McClendon is an imposing physical specimen with excellent power and explosion. The only thing holding him back earlier in the season was the need to develop more familiarity with his alignments and assignments. That process is just about complete.

"The last couple of weeks he's kind of bridged that gap between being a little hesitant about things to now, where he's ready for game experience," Fulmer said. "The thing you like to see is that kind of will. He's buzzing around, doing good things."

Although McClendon's game action has been limited, he has distinguished himself in his brief opportunities.

"He's done fine," Fulmer said. "He hasn't played nearly as much as we would've liked during the course of the year because we've been in close games or been in the fourth quarter where you're trying to come back."

Historically, UT freshmen are slow to win Fulmer's confidence and earn significant playing time. Once McClendon convinces the head man he'll do the right thing instinctively, however, he's going to be a force at guard.

"The only place you really get yourself ready is in practice," Fulmer said. "Those instantaneous decisions you make while the play's in progress make a huge difference in practice and in the game."

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