O-line already battle-tested

Today's sobering thought: Arron Sears started 37 games in Tennessee's offensive line between 2003 and 2006. That's just two fewer than the five projected first-teamers in the 2007 offensive line have COMBINED.

Tackle Eric Young has 15 starts to his credit, guard Anthony Parker 13, center Josh McNeil 9, guard Ramon Foster 2 and tackle Chris Scott none.

Although the line's first-teamers have limited game experience, they have tons of game-TYPE experience. That's because Tennessee devotes so much of its practice time to full-speed contact work.

"One great thing we do – from Coach Fulmer, Coach Chavis and Coach Cutcliffe – is we play as much real football as you possibly can in practice," line coach Greg Adkins said this week. "So, when it comes to games, it's not a shock to 'em, as far as the speed and physicality."

Adkins has complete faith in Young and Parker. And he believes McNeil will be markedly better this season than he was at the start of last season.

"We threw Josh McNeil in there last year and had some growing pains with him in the beginning," Adkins recalled. "But we feel very comfortable about what he's able to get done now."

Additional growing pains are on tap this fall as Adkins gives several more young linemen on-the-job-training – notably sophomores Scott, Jacques McClendon and Vladimir Richard, along with redshirt freshmen Ramone Johnson and Darius Myers.

So, what must the young blockers do in order to eventually perform at the Southeastern Conference level?

"Ultimately, just continue to play, continue to understand," Adkins said. "You gain confidence in guys as they play in games. That's what it takes. You try to prepare them as much as you can, then give them a chance to see what they can do. There's nothing like playing real football."

The Vols played a lot of "real football" in practice last spring, and head coach Phillip Fulmer was generally encouraged by what he saw.

"We've got some work to do but during the course of spring practice they responded well to Coach Adkins," the head man said. "I expect they'll be at least an efficient group, if not better than that. Depth is a concern. We need some young guys to be able to compete."

With Young sidelined all spring, Adkins looked at a lot of line combinations last spring. He believes the depth situation is better than it may appear.

"I think we created a little depth in spring practice," the Vol aide said. "Overall, I think our kids were tougher, and I think they'll continue that as we get into two-a-days."

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