Who'll stick at right guard?

Pardon the pun, but David Cutcliffe wouldn't be sweating Tennessee's season opener nearly so much if he had a right guard.

With Game 1 at California just 12 days away, the Vols' offensive coordinator is pleased with four of the five starters in his offensive line. The only spot in the blocking front that has him concerned is right guard.

"I think we have four playing really well," he said following Saturday night's scrimmage. "We've got four guys playing pretty derned good football."

Those four are Eric Young at left tackle, Anthony Parker at left guard, Josh McNeil at center and Ramon Foster at right tackle. Chris Scott is listed first-team at right guard but backup Jacques McClendon is applying pressure.

"Chris Scott's still got to prove himself on a consistent basis," Cutcliffe said.

Scott was at right tackle and Foster at right guard when preseason drills began. A week into camp, however, they were flip-flopped. While Scott has done OK at guard, Foster has flourished at tackle.

"I think Ramon Foster's playing really, really well," Cutcliffe said. "I'm really pleased with Ramon Foster at this point. He can play guard or tackle, and he can play right side or left side. He's really become an important cog."

The question is: Who'll fill the guard spot next to Foster ... Scott or McClendon?

"We'll know a lot more when we line up (in practice) on Monday," Cutcliffe said. "Hopefully, we'll line up with the right people. We're going to spend an inordinate amount of time grading this tape, so we make good decisions."

Tennessee's offensive linemen have become leaner, quicker and tougher since last season. The new-look line opened some nice holes Saturday night, enabling the top four tailbacks – Arian Foster (8 carries, 41 yards), Montario Hardesty (5 carries, 30 yards), Lennon Creer (11 carries, 57 yards) and Daryl Vereen (13 carries, 47 yards) – to combine for 175 yards on 37 rushes. That's a solid average of 4.73 yards per carry.

"There were some good things," head coach Phillip Fulmer said of the ground game. "There were some holes in there at times. I thought the backs helped the line and the line helped the backs pretty good."

In addition to opening some holes for the rushers, Tennessee's first-team line did a great job of protecting quarterback Erik Ainge from pass rushers.

"I don't think they came close much with the Ones in there, and that was good," Cutcliffe said. "I don't know why exactly. We got some pressures from them – a lot of backer shoots (blitzes) – but our protections knew where they were supposed to be."

If not for a rash of dropped passes, Tennessee's offense might have dominated the two-hour scrimmage.

"We had opportunities in the passing game," Cutcliffe noted. "We were trying to look at a lot of different things, so there wasn't a lot of continuity to our offense but I thought pass protection was one of the pluses with the Ones."

Fulmer also was pleased with the offensive effort Saturday evening.

"There was more consistency," he said. "If you take away the drops, offensively, you feel like you had a pretty good day."


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