O-line must earn honors

Tennessee center Josh McNeil said it was an insult that only one Vol offensive lineman was named to the three coaches' All-SEC teams.

But what do you expect when you have the program's worst running average since 1964, you seldom convert on third-and-short and you can't run out the clock late in games?

It's not an insult. It's reality.

Tennessee's blockers didn't earned the right to gain preseason recognition. And the one was honored, third-team guard Anthony Parker, isn't the team's best lineman. Eric Young is. Young, moved from right to left tackle, was playing almost as well as All-American Arron Sears when a midseason shoulder injury affected his play.

If Tennessee can average over 140 rushing yards per game, the pass protection holds up and the team challenges for the East Division, then the offensive linemen will be rewarded.

And make no mistake, the line's efficiency will go a long way in determining how successful this season will be.

Tennessee should be as good or better at four line spots. The exception: left tackle. But Young should be a solid replacement for Sears.

``Anytime you lose a great player like Arron, it will be hard, but we've got some guys that are capable,'' said Greg Adkins, offensive line coach.

``Eric has played left tackle and we feel he can protect the blind side of the quarterback,'' Adkins said. ``He's the most experienced guy we have up front.''

The next most experienced is Parker, who was rated the No. 30 overall player in the SEC by The Sporting News.

``Anthony's an athletic kid that's played a lot of football around here,'' Adkins said. ``He's a good football player and very versatile. He truly is a guy that could play five spots. He's athletic enough to play tackle in this league. I love his ability to pull and play guard. He could be the third center in an emergency-type situation.''

Parker is considered the best athlete among the linemen, but injuries have curtailed his production.

McNeil will start at center with Chris Scott at right tackle and Parker and Ramon Foster at left guard. Young has 15 starts, Parker 13, McNeil nine and Foster two. Scott has yet to start, but he played in nine games last year.

``Any time you've got guys that have played in this league, it helps, and they've played together for the most part,'' Adkins said. ``I think we can be better but we still have work to be done before we open against Cal.''

UT not only has some experienced linemen, the Vols also have depth. Ramone Johnson, Vladimir Richard, Michael Frogg, Jacques McClendon, Steve Jones and Darius Myers have the ability to contribute.

``I think I'll have more guys capable of competing in this league to win games,'' Adkins said.

Last season, Tennessee was outstanding in pass protection. Out of 415 pass attempts, the Vols allowed only 19 sacks, third fewest in the SEC. And not all 19 sacks were the fault of the line.

But the run blocking was suspect. You could argue that backs missed a hole now and then, but for the most part, the line didn't get the push or create enough gaps for the runners to be real effective.

``Certainly, we've got to run the ball better; there's no doubt about that,'' Adkins said. ``I think we'll be better up front as for as the run game is concerned. Certainly, I think our backs will be better and overall we'll be better.''

Adkins thinks the no-huddle offense the Vols will employ will benefit the run game. Interestingly, strength and conditioning coach Johnny Long had linemen hold their stance for up to 30 seconds before firing out in an effort to simulate the no-huddle and get used to staying stationary.

Adkins doesn't think the Vols have to be more committed to the run. He just thinks they have to be more effective when the run is called.

He also thinks the zone-blocking scheme that has gradually been incorporated into the run-game will be more polished this season.

``It's something we did better, quite obviously, in the spring and toward the latter part of last season,'' Adkins said. ``I think we're getting better.

``We hung our hat on it this spring and coming out of the spring, we were definitely better in zone blocking.''

If the scheme renders results, then UT's offensive linemen will reap the benefits with postseason honors.

But you can't expect star treatment when you haven't play like one.


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