O&W Game is today

Tennessee's offensive coaches hope to see much better pass protection in today's Orange & White Game (3 o'clock kickoff at Neyland Stadium) than they witnessed in the final tuneup scrimmage on April 10.

Fortunately, that won't be hard to accomplish.

Vol quarterbacks were sacked eight times on April 10 and hurried another half-dozen times. Sometimes the pass rushers were in the offensive backfield so quickly it appeared they were part of the play's design. The blockers seemed lost.

"A few of the things we're doing schematically have created some issues with the kids," offensive coordinator/line coach Jim Chaney conceded earlier this week.

Although the No. 1 offensive line surrendered seven of the eight sacks on April 10, it did not yield a single sack in the previous scrimmage on April 4. The pass protectors were exceptional that day.

"Within the passing game we've implemented new protections and schemes for the guys upfront," Chaney noted. "I'll say they've grasped most of those with relative ease. I think this is a part of their past; we haven't had to change a lot."

Interestingly enough, the new blocking scheme is more challenging for centers than guards and tackles.

"The center position, with Josh (McNeil) and Cody (Sullins) ... they're doing a good job trying to learn stuff," Chaney said. "It's been difficult for 'em because some of the things are completely new and foreign to them. But I admire their courage in trying to take on something new, and their attitude's been fantastic, so we're real pleased with that."

Most breakdowns in pass protection occur at tackle, a position at which Tennessee is painfully young. Chris Scott is the only returning letterman. Jarrod Shaw saw a few downs of mop-up action last fall, while Dallas Thomas, Aaron Douglas and William Brimfield have never played a college snap.

Asked if he is concerned about sending unproven tackles against the speedy defensive ends they'll face this fall, Chaney flashed a pained grin.

"Always ... for 24 years ... certainly I am," he said. "I think that's something every coach does. When you put yourself in those third-and-long situations where you're forced to throw the football, you're worried about those cheetah cats coming off the end on those offensive tackles."

In spite of Tennessee's inexperience at offensive tackle, Chaney is confident the Vols will be adept at pass protection in time.

"We have schemes and ways to help those young men be successful," he said. "We're not fools enough to just set 'em out there and hang 'em out to dry."

Chaney knows a thing or two about pass protection. He fashioned exceptional passing attacks during his nine-year stint (1997-2005) as offensive coordinator at Purdue, then coached offensive linemen and tight ends the past three years (2006-08) for the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

"That's one thing, coming from the National Football League, that benefits you," he said. "You're not always blessed with the two best tackles in football, so you're forced to find creative ways to assist those kids to be successful. We're ready to do that if we need to."

If Tennessee's youthful tackles make as much progress in August as they made in April, the Vols may not need to be terribly creative in their blocking scheme.

"Right now they're doing a fine job getting it done," Chaney said. "Quite honestly, every day in practice they're going against some awful fast defensive ends (Chris Walker, Ben Martin).

"That's going to benefit us in the long run. The competitive spirit we're trying to develop on the football field will help a lot of positive things happen for us in the fall."

It would be nice if some of those "positive things" began showing up this afternoon, particularly in the area of pass protection.


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