O-line improving

Upgrading a ground game that sputtered and wheezed throughout the 2006 season is Job One for Tennessee's offense this spring. That's why the Vols' first spring scrimmage was somewhat encouraging.

Arian Foster rushed 19 times for 98 yards. LaMarcus Coker added eight carries for 60 yards and walk-on Roy Olasimbo 15 for 50 yards. Each made some guys miss but, for the most part, their yardage could be chalked up to good blocking by the guys up front.

"I think we're making some progress," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "It's (a matter of) physical toughness. They got flatter backs, they're pushing and finishing blocks a little better, and that showed up in our run game. That's an emphasis we've made."

The head man and line coach Greg Adkins have been preaching the importance of better run blocking all spring. Based on recent developments, their words seem to be having some impact on the youthful offensive linemen.

"I thought they did a great job," said quarterback Erik Ainge, who has since been ruled out for the remainder of spring drills due to a knee injury. "They protected well. They had a couple of communication/assignment errors but that's going to happen."

Tennessee must replace two first-teamers frpm its 2006 blocking front – three-year starter Arron Sears and two-year starter David Ligon. This task has been complicated by the fact all three of the returning starters – Josh McNeil, Anthony Parker, Eric Young – are sidelined by injuries this spring. That's forcing the Vols to count on relatively inexperienced guys such as Ramon Foster, Michael Frogg, Steven Jones, Chris Scott, Vladimir Richard, Darius Myers, Ramone Johnson and Jarrod Shaw.

"We have a young offensive line right now," Ainge noted. "Our three returning starters aren't playing, so that obviously makes it tough. But I thought they did a great job (in the scrimmage)."

Fulmer seemed pleased, as well. Still, he emphasizes the need for continued improvement when the Vols return to work following spring break. With the top three receivers of 2006 departed, UT will rely more on its ground game in 2007 than it did in '06.

"We have to be a better running team this year," the head coach said, "and our backs will allow us to do that if our front will continue to progress."


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