O-line eases transition

The fact Tennessee must break in a new quarterback and four new offensive coaches this spring is a big deal. Still, it would be an even bigger deal if not for one overwhelming positive:

All five offensive linemen who started the last six games of 2007 return for 2008.

Center Josh McNeil, right tackle Ramon Foster and left guard Anthony Parker started all 14 games last season. Chris Scott started every game, as well, but split time between right guard (eight starts) and left tackle (six starts). Jacques McClendon started the last six games at right guard.

Also returning are 2007's top reserve at guard (Vladimir Richard) and the top reserve at tackle (Ramone Johnson).

Except for the quarterback, the linemen are more mentally taxed than anyone on the offensive unit. Thus, having seasoned veterans in place is a huge advantage as the Vols install new coordinator Dave Clawson's West Coast system.

"I do expect some growing pains early as we go from one system to another," head coach Phillip Fulmer says. "But it starts upfront, and we're very fortunate to have a group of offensive linemen that have played together."

McNeil is sitting out spring drills due to minor knee surgery. That has forced Fulmer to make one temporary change in his starting five.

"Anthony Parker will play center in Josh McNeil's absence this spring," the head man says. "Hopefully, we'll pick up where we left off in the fall with Chris Scott, Vlad Richard, Jacques McClendon and Ramon Foster as the guys on either side of Anthony Parker."

In addition to the seven linemen who lettered last year, the Vols have several talented but unproven blockers who will get long looks this spring – junior center Cody Sullins, sophomore guards Darius Myers and Jarrod Shaw, redshirt freshman guards Cody Pope and Darris Sawtelle, plus redshirt freshman tackle William Brimfield. Fulmer would love to see a couple of the young bucks emerge as dependable players.

"It is really important that we come out with some depth at that position in the spring," the head man notes.

Although the tight end is no longer viewed as a "glorified tackle" at Tennessee, he still does a lot of blocking. Thus, the loss of 2007 starters Chris Brown and Brad Cottam could impact the offensive front a bit. Still, Fulmer likes what he has seen from returnees Jeff Cottam, a rising junior, and Luke Stocker, a rising sophomore. Cottam started six games last season, filling in for his older brother, and caught four passes for 19 yards. Stocker caught four passes for 11 yards. Each had a touchdown grab.

"Jeff Cottam and Luke Stocker are SEC-caliber players," Fulmer says. "Both can play significant roles in our offense."

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