O-line 'starts' to jell

If Saturday's Tennessee football scrimmage had ended after the opening drive, Greg Adkins might be the happiest guy in Big Orange Country.

Adkins' offensive line consistently opened holes for Vol running back Arian Foster, who carried on 11 of the 15 plays. It did a fine job of protecting quarterback Erik Ainge, who was never pressured. There were no false starts, no illegal formations, no holding infractions.

In short, first-team blockers Eric Young, Anthony Parker, Josh McNeil, Ramon Foster and Chris Scott looked awfully good as the No. 1 offense marched 68 yards in 15 plays to a touchdown.

"They showed they could start well," Adkins conceded, "but they've got to learn how to finish, and that's what it's all about."

Indeed. The first-team line faded a bit after its imposing start. Its second possession was a three-and-out that consisted of a five-yard completion and two incompletions. The third possession opened with a false start penalty against Scott and ended three snaps later when a tipped pass was intercepted by heralded freshman cornerback Eric Berry.

A 17-yard burst by freshman tailback Daryl Vereen enabled the first-team offense to pick up one first down on its fourth series but the drive ended moments later with a 33-yard interception return by senior cornerback Antonio Gaines.

The No. 1 offense showed some spark on series No. 5. A nine-yard pass from Aigne to Lucas Taylor and an eight-yard burst by Foster preceded a quick hitch that Austin Rogers turned into a 21-yard gain. Runs of four and six yards by Montario Hardesty set up a first-and-10 at the defense's 39-yard line but end Robert Ayers dumped Hardesty for a loss of one to stymie the march.

The first-team offense's final possession was undermined when Ainge fumbled the opening snap and was sacked for a loss of six.

Although the ground game was spotty – as one would expect in a first scrimmage – there were times when the run blocking was crisp and effective. Apparently, the coaching staff's commitment to rushing the ball more often and more effectively is no empty promise.

"We actually had a series there that was geared to the run completely," Adkins said. "It was going to be seven runs and a pass in an eight-play series. We weren't able to finish the drive doing that but we were able to make a few first downs."

With UT coming off its worst rushing season (108 yards per game) since 1989, Adkins knows he must mold an offensive line that can significantly improve that figure in 2007. Based on eight days of practice and one full-scale scrimmage, he is somewhat encouraged.

"I think, overall, the attitude towards it (run game) is a whole lot better," he said. "We made progress throughout the spring on it. I haven't looked at the (scrimmage) tape yet, but we felt like we ran the ball pretty decently.

"We're still having too many lost-yardage plays and some hit-or-miss plays but I thought our backs did a heck of a job. A lot of credit goes to those guys (for) breaking some tackles at the line of scrimmage. If you make some long runs, the yards will add up."

As for the pass protection, the second-team line was porous but the first-teamers did a pretty good job. Still, the defense pressured Ainge a bit more than Adkins would prefer.

"They gave us a number of different things," the Vol aide said, "and it's the stress of the situation. That's why we wanted to put our guys in that and see how we would react. Upfront, we didn't do a great job of handling that. We'll see what our problems were once we look at the tape and see how we can get them corrected."

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