Weighty issue

A massive offensive line that averaged 324 pounds per man took a lot of the blame when Tennessee averaged a paltry 18.6 points per game en route to a 5-6 record in 2005.

The ponderous blockers couldn't get outside on screen passes. They struggled to get upfield on the linebackers. They routinely ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, they helped cost offensive coordinator Randy Sanders his job.

Upon replacing Sanders in 2006, new coordinator David Cutcliffe ordered many of the returning linemen to shed some pounds. Interestingly enough, as the weights plummeted, Tennessee's scoring totals soared. The Vols averaged 27.8 points per game in 2006 and 32.5 in '07.

When Dave Clawson succeeded Cutcliffe following the '07 season, however, Tennessee's blockers began bulging again. Another lackluster O-line contributed to another offensive disaster as the Vols averaged just 17.3 points per game en route to a 5-7 record.

Naturally, some red flags were raised when Tennessee opened 2009 spring practice with Chris Scott and William Brimfield checking in at 346 pounds each. Moreover, Jarrod Shaw tipped the scales at 332 and Jacques McClendon at 324.

Given how the Vols struggled offensively in 2005 and 2008 behind ponderous blocking fronts, you'd figure new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney would make weight an issue. And he has ... sort of.

"We'd like to find a little more foot speed," Chaney said recently. "We'd like to get a little weight off Chris (Scott) and Jarrod (Shaw). We want them to be able to run and efficiently block on the second level of the defense. That's what we're looking at."

Chaney insists he couldn't care less what a Vol weighs so long as the player is agile enough to track down opposing linebackers when necessary.

"He can weigh 400 pounds but if he can run and get there, that's good enough," the coordinator said. "But if he needs to weigh 290, then so be it. They've got to be able to play successful football at the second level. That's how I look at it to see if they're carrying too much weight or not."

In addition to quick feet, Chaney wants blockers with quick minds. The switch from Clawson's West Coast Offense to Chaney's pro-style attack requires some mental gymnastics of the big guys upfront.

"The changes have been made primarily in the run game using the zone scheme," Chaney said. "These are tedious and there are a lot of nuances to these schemes we're doing with the offensive line."

Although the first-team offensive line surrendered seven sacks in one spring scrimmage, the new coordinator isn't wringing his hands.

"I think they're right on schedule for what we're trying to get done," he said. "They're buying into the schemes we're trying to do – we're trying to run the wide and the tight zone schemes.

"It's a learning process for them. In the past it appears they've been primarily a tight zone team. We're trying to get them to push the ball a little bit wider at times."

Who knows? Perhaps one key to wider runs is a few narrower waistlines.


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