Jacques may be key for O-line

Tennessee is determined to run the football better in 2007 than it did in 2006. No player looms larger in that quest – both in terms of importance AND size – than rising sophomore Jacques McClendon.

Jacques McClendon, rated one of America's top prep blockers as a senior at Chattanooga Baylor in 2005, is a 6-3, 325-pound monster blessed with the heft, strength, quickness, toughness and aggressiveness to upgrade Tennessee's ground game all by himself.

All he needs is a little seasoning. He took a step in that direction last New Year's Day, capping a promising freshman season by starting the Vols' Outback Bowl game with Penn State.

"It was a great experience," he recalls. "I was a very inexperienced player going into the Outback Bowl. I can use that experience to help me in the future"

Head coach Phillip Fulmer, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and line coach Greg Adkins gave McClendon lots of praise during the 2006 season but very little playing time. Stuck behind veteran guards Anthony Parker and David Ligon, McClendon patiently waited his turn. It arrived when Parker was too injured to answer the bell for the bowl game.

So, what did McClendon learn from his first career start?

"I just learned that the speed of the game is a lot different than practice," he said. "When your number's called you've just got to be able to perform."

Although he was a highly touted recruit when he arrived on campus, McClendon was not ready for the mental demands placed on a Vol offensive lineman. He has made tremendous strides in that area in the past nine months but readilyl admits he's still a work in progress.

"I believe I've still got a ways to go, technique-wise, because I was new to the position last year," he says. "But now that I've had a year in the program to listen to the coaches I have a lot more comfort with the offense. This spring should be a time for me to keep getting better."

Fulmer and Cutcliffe insist Tennessee will run the ball more this fall, and that certainly plays into McClendon's strength. Still, he understands that continued improvement in his pass-protection skills is absolutely vital.

"I believe we are going to run the ball more this year; we have a great stable of running backs,"McClendon notes. "But we also have a great quarterback and some great wide receivers. I believe we're going to find a balance of what we need to do, and that's what we'll do."

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