McNeil's the king of candor

Lane Kiffin isn't the only member of Tennessee's football program who is developing a reputation for outspokenness.

Josh McNeil is proving to be almost as candid as his head coach. The 6-4, 280-pound senior center admitted earlier this week that he remains "disgusted" by last season's 5-7 record, adding that "I haven't lost any bitterness toward that at all."

He is just as outspoken regarding UT's pro-style attack of 2009, particularly in terms of how it compares to the West Coast offense Dave Clawson installed, but the Vols never embraced, in 2008.

"I think we're right on schedule," McNeil said. "We're where we need to be. There's always room for improvement but I feel like we ended spring on a good note in the spring game. Everything seemed to be clicking in that game and everybody seemed to understand what we were supposed to be doing ... which is a VAST improvement over where we were last year.

"We're probably 10 times more comfortable now than we were at this time last year."

One reason the Vols were uncomfortable this time last season was the adjustment to significant changes in their blocking schemes. With the pass protections altered, Tennessee's sack total soared from 4 in 2007 to 25 in 2008. With guards and tackles regularly flipping from one side to the other, the Vols' run-blocking suffered, as well.

McNeil is convinced the zone-blocking scheme new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney installed during spring practice fits Tennessee's line talent exceptionally well.

"I think it does," he said. "We've definitely got some athletes who can get the run started. That's what you need in the zone scheme - athletic linemen in the two-deep. I think it fits our system well.

"I haven't been this confident about our run game going into a season since I can remember. That's how much confidence I have in this run system and how much confidence I have in what we're doing."

McNeil isn't alone. He says his fellow linemen are just as sold on the new zone-blocking system as he is.

"Definitely," he said. "We always talk about the type of plays we're running and how the style fits us, how much we love it. We all agree that we're real excited to get it going this fall."

McNeil is one of four seniors who project to start in Tennessee's 2009 offensive front. Behind the seniors, however, the Vols are terribly young and inexperienced.

You wonder: Is there anything the Vols can do to strengthen their line depth during the offseason?

"Absolutely," McNeil said. "A lot of times an offensive lineman isn't ready to play because he just isn't physically there yet. That's where the summer comes in - getting bigger, stronger and faster."

Although the summer workouts are voluntary and not mandatory, attendance has been outstanding.

"We've had these sessions three days a week, and we've been here every day," McNeil noted. "When they (backs, receivers and tight ends) are doing 7 on 7, we (blockers) are outside doing offensive line drills with each other - doing the things we do every day in practice to keep the rust off and get better."

With no defensive linemen on hand to provide resistance, blocking drills essentially consist of going through the motions. Still, McNeil believes Tennessee's youthful offensive linemen benefit from these summer workouts.

"For the young guys who don't know what they're doing, it gives them extra coaching," he said. "That way they will be further along come fall camp than they were in the spring."


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