Big-brother approach

There's nothing like a big brother to help a young man through the tough times in his life. That approach is being put to the test along Tennessee's offensive line this spring.

Due to attrition at the position, tackle is an area of considerable youth and inexperience for the 2009 Vols. Except for rising senior Chris Scott, the four top hands are two guys who have scarcely played – junior Jarrod Shaw and sophomore Cody Pope – plus two redshirt freshmen who have yet to play a college snap – Aaron Douglas and Dallas Thomas.

Fortunately for Tennessee, there are a couple of "big brothers" at guard – grizzled veterans who can help cover for the youngsters at tackle. Jacques McClendon has 13 career starts to his credit and fellow senior Vladimir Richard started the last six games of 2008.

Head coach Lane Kiffin said this week it is "extremely important" that the old dogs at guard help elevate the play of the young pups at tackle.

"Anytime that you've got a tackle with not much experience to go out there, it's an issue with the play-caller and an issue for your offense," the head man added.

Because tackles must protect against defensive ends that usually are quick and dynamic pass rushers, inexperience at tackle is a bigger concern than inexperience at guard.

"It's a lot easier to hide a guard than a brand new tackle," Kiffin said. "We've really worked at that spot. There's a lot of competition at that spot, and we need someone to step up there."

Scott has 26 career starts to his credit, including all 12 games at left tackle in 2008. He's solid. So are the three inside guys – center Josh McNeil (35 career starts), McClendon and Richard.

"The inside has played well, those two guards especially," Kiffin noted. "Getting them back healthy (Richard missed some time with a concussion) and them both playing together has been good for us. We're excited about it."

Still, the O-line has been an ongoing concern this spring. The run blocking has been better than expected but the pass protection has been awful at times. Last Saturday was one of those times, as the No. 1 offensive line surrendered seven sacks of quarterback Jonathan Crompton. That's why pass protection was a major emphasis on Tuesday.

"I thought we pass-protected a little better today," Kiffin said. "As far as one-on-one pass matchups, I thought we did better. They responded a little bit to Saturday, so it was good to see."

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