Blossoming blockers

Tennessee football fans aren't expecting much from the 2009 offensive line, which means two things: One, they are pretty astute and, two, they could be pleasantly surprised this fall.

Certainly, losing 2008 seniors Anthony Parker (38 career starts) and Ramon Foster (28 career starts) to graduation hurt. The departure of three more blockers with eligibility remaining – Ramone Johnson, Preston Bailey and Darius Myers – hurt even more. And the fact UT signed just two O-linemen in February makes matters even worse.

Maybe, just maybe, the outlook isn't as bleak as some media and fans seem inclined to paint it, however. The new-look line isn't particularly big or experienced but it's an athletic group with plenty of determination.

The blockers got a surprisingly good push against the No. 1 defense during the short-yardage phase of Tuesday's workout, opening some eyes in the process ... Lane Kiffin's, for instance. The head coach said the success the O-line enjoyed in that drill represented a "really big" step in the maturation process.

"Where I was at before (Southern Cal) we would not have done live short-yardage on a Tuesday in spring ball," Kiffin said. "But we've got to find out who they are. We don't know who our five guys are, so we've got to put it live."

Although the defense rallied to beat the offense in a pair of subsequent "four-minute (run out the clock) drills," it was sub-standard ball security – not sub-standard blocking – that proved to be the problem in those situations.

"I thought the offensive line responded extremely well, even in the four-minute drill," Kiffin said. "They moved the ball really well but we turned it over – which obviously wasn't their fault – with the fumbles.

"I'm very pleased with the offensive line, especially at crunch time there at the end."

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