Looking ahead

Tennessee's run blocking left a bit to be desired in 2006. Since two starting offensive linemen – guard David Ligon and All-America tackle Arron Sears – exhausted their eligibility in the Outback Bowl, the outlook for 2007 appears less than promising.

But Sears thinks the '07 line could be excellent, even without him. He believes head coach Phillip Fulmer and line coach Greg Adkins have enough talented young blockers returning to assemble an exceptional blocking front next fall.

"Coach Adkins and Coach Fulmer have put some great recruiting classes of young linemen together," Sears said recently. "They move around very well."

Sears began by singling out sophomores Ramon Foster and Anthony Parker, noting that "they're young but they've played a lot of ball."

Parker (6-3, 305) started all 12 regular-season games at right guard but missed the Outback Bowl due to a knee injury. Foster (6-6, 325) started two games as a redshirt freshman in 2005 but spent all of 2006 backing up Ligon at left guard.

Sears also is very high on three freshmen the Vols signed last February – center Josh McNeil (6-4, 290), tackle Ramone Johnson (6-4, 305) and guard Jacques McClendon (6-3, 325).

McNeil started the final eight games of 2006 and made significant improvement in November.

"He progressed a lot," Sears noted. "He made the Freshman All-America team, and it was well deserved. He's been working really hard and taking heed in what everybody's been saying about him."

Johnson redshirted in 2006 but showed enough in practice to convince Sears he's going to be a quality player.

McClendon, meanwhile, is a bull-strong young man who replaced the injured Parker as the starting right guard in the Outback Bowl game vs. Penn Sate.

"Jacques is really good," Sears said. "He's a man for as young as he is. He's a man in the weight room to be 18 years old."

While the run blocking fell short of expectations this fall, the pass protection was excellent. The Vols allowed just 17 sacks in 12 games, and Sears thought that was a credit to the new offensive line coach.

"Coach Adkins did a great job by keeping us prepared, week in and week out," the Vol senior said. "He never changed anything up. He was always the same. He did a great job this year."

Asked if Adkins did anything significantly different than fired predecessor Jimmy Ray Stephens, Sears shook his head.

"Jimmy Ray did a great job himself," he said. "We just didn't get it done as a team, and that's why he lost his job."

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