Blocking brain trust

Tennessee's blockers may be unproven and unheralded but the guys who coach Tennessee's blockers are quite the opposite. In fact, the Vols might boast the most imposing group of offensive line mentors in college football.

Jim Chaney, James Cregg and Mitch Browning have a combined 60 years in the coaching profession, with several of those seasons coming in the professional ranks.

Chaney, who oversees centers and guards in addition to coordinating the Tennessee offense, has 24 years of coaching experience. He is fresh from a three-year coaching stint with the NFL's St. Louis Rams. Prior to that he was offensive coordinator/line coach at Purdue for nine seasons. Six of the nine Boilermaker offenses he fielded ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Cregg, who works with Vol tackles and tight ends, is a seven-year coaching veteran. He also is fresh from the NFL, having spent the past two years helping with the Oakland Raiders' offensive line.

In addition, the Vols boast probably the most overqualified graduate assistant in college football. That would be Browning, a 29-year coaching veteran. After serving as offensive coordinator/line coach at Syracuse last fall, he lost his job in December when the Orangemen changed head coaches. Since he's still being paid by Syracuse, he's financially able to help with Tennessee's O-line for virtually no reimbursement. Prior to Syracuse, Browning spent seven years as offensive coordinator for the University of Minnesota, where his 2005 attack averaged a mind-boggling 494.8 yards per game.

Among Chaney, Cregg and Browning, there is a storehouse of offensive line expertise available to Tennessee's blockers. They apparently took advantage of this during the just-concluded spring practice. Their pass protection remains spotty but their run blocking improved dramatically over the course of spring drills.

"I just want to give credit to Coach Browning, Coach Cregg and Coach Chaney," senior guard Vladimir Richard said. "They came in and they were no pushovers. They were tough, but they also showed that they are here for us. They want us to succeed. A lot of coaches say that but it's not always true. You can really see that they are sincere about it."

Chaney, Cregg and Browning apparently found a way to push the linemen physically and mentally, while still supporting and nurturing them psychologically.

"It was easy for us to buy in when you have coaches that treat you with respect," Richard said. "They might yell at you and what-not but they're just chewing you out to get you better.

"When you have that relationship with a coach, I think it just opens the door. Whatever they say, you're going to believe it and trust that it's going to make you better and make this team better."

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