Increased workload

A new offensive scheme has increased the workload for Tennessee's No. 1 center. But that's OK. He relishes the added responsibility and believes strongly in the new scheme.

Ever since Dave Clawson was hired last January to succeed David Cutcliffe as the Vols' offensive coordinator, two-year starting center Josh McNeil has spent spring practice and the offseason memorizing and executing his new responsibilities. He'll be even busier this fall than last fall but he's so excited about the new scheme that he can't wait to get started.

"I would say the center in this offense has a little bit more responsibility than it did in Coach Cut's offense," said McNeil, a 6-4, 280-pound junior from Collins, Miss. "I have to make a lot more calls and know a few more things than I did. The responsibility is really big but I have a lot more confidence in this offense than I did the other one."

Most people grumble when their workload is increased. Not McNeil. He accepts the additional duties he'll have in Clawson's West Coast offense with a smile.

"The type of player I am, I like taking on responsibility like that," he said. "I'm glad the coaches trust me with making those type of important calls. It's something you've got to learn; you can't mess up."

Besides adjusting to a new offensive coordinator and new scheme, McNeil is adjusting to a new quarterback these days. After snapping the ball to Erik Ainge for two years, he'll be snapping it to Jonathan Crompton this fall. McNeil believes the transition from the former to the latter is going smoothly, despite significant differences in the leadership style of the two players.

"Everybody knows that, personality-wise, they're really different," McNeil said. "Jonathan's kind of got a middle-linebacker mentality. That's just the way he is. He's a take-charge kind of guy. Erik ran the system great, and I think Jonathan is going to run it really great, too.

"We've got to protect our butts off, no matter who the quarterback is."

Pass protection was the overwhelming strength of Tennessee's 2007 offensive line. McNeil and his fellow blockers allowed just four sacks all season, the lowest total among all 119 NCAA Div. 1-A programs. You wonder: Can the pass protection be that air-tight again?

"That was a great accomplishment last year, and we, as an offensive line, take a lot of pride in that," McNeil said. "With the same guys coming back, obviously the expectations are really high.

"We know that if we play up to our abilities, though, that's the type of thing we can accomplish again."

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