Hammer time

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon wasn't writing about football when he penned the verse "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail," but that pretty well sums up the philosophy of Tennessee's offensive linemen.

To a man they would rather be a hammer (delivering the blow) than a nail (absorbing the blow). In other words, they prefer firing out and blocking the defender on a running play than backpedaling and allowing the defender to initiate the contact on a pass play.

That's why Tennessee's emphasis on developing a smash-mouth running attack this preseason has the offensive linemen grinning from ear to ear.

"It's a great thing to have the physicality back in this football team," senior guard Jacques McClendon said this week.

Tennessee basically abandoned the ground game the past few years. After rushing for 2,418 yards in 2004, the Vols rushed for just 1,411 yards in 2005, 1,404 in 2006, 1,946 in 2007 and 1,475 in 2008. The new coaches have vowed to re-establish the running attack this fall, however, and preseason drills suggest they intend to keep that promise.

"We're out here running the ball, going against the D-line everyday," McClendon said, literally beaming. " We're doing a great job picking up all the run stuff."

Tennessee's coaches promised a potent ground attack in years past but scrapped the plan whenever the rushing game stalled. McClendon believes the new staff will be stubborn enough to stick with the run till it clicks. That gives the blockers added confidence and determination.

"It's definitely a mindset," McClendon said. "As an offensive lineman you've got to go in there every play knowing you're going to beat that guy across from you. Sometimes you're going to win and sometimes you're going to lose, but you're not going in there thinking you're beat.

"That's what they (coaches) are trying to instill in us: We're going to compete every play, no matter what. If we get beat one play, that's fine ... we'll come back the next play and we're going to win."

Tennessee's offensive linemen took a lot of blame for the futility of last season's running attack. Some appeared overweight and out of shape, prompting critics to describe the blockers as "soft." McClendon is determined to prove otherwise this fall.

"We're in real great condition right now, and there's been real good competition," he said. "This next month we're just going to get better and better, offensively and defensively. We're going to have a good team this year."


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