Change is in the air

An infrequent visitor to Tennessee football practice was taken aback Thursday to see fullback Austin Johnson reel in a 45-yard touchdown pass during an 11-on-11 drill.

"When was the last time a Tennessee fullback caught a long touchdown pass ... in a game, in a scrimmage, in a practice, in his back yard?" the bewildered writer wondered aloud.

It has been awhile but that sort of thing could happen a lot this fall. The Vols are doing several things these days that they didn't do in the recent past, which may be a credit to the new attack being installed by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

"I like that it's so versatile," junior receiver Gerald Jones said earlier this week. "The play-action will really throw you off because we pound the zone play so much, then we catch you with the play-action pass.

"And I love the route-running. I've run routes that I'd never even heard of, so I love the versatility of the whole offense."

In addition to new routes for the receivers, Tennessee's 2009 offense includes new wrinkles for the fullbacks. Johnson lined up as a wideout in one spring scrimmage and caught a 15-yard pass. Then the 6-2, 234-pounder ran a deep route on Thursday's 45-yard TD bomb.

Following the workout, head coach Lane Kiffin was asked if Johnson and first-team fullback Kevin Cooper will get those type opportunities once the season starts.

"Yeah, if they continue to make plays like today," Kiffin replied. "Austin had a very big day, played extremely well. There's a very good competition going on there."

Of course, the key to Tennessee's offensive success in 2009 is the development of the offensive line. Minus Anthony Parker and Ramon Foster from the 2008 blocking front, the Vols are breaking in some newcomers this preseason. Kiffin likes what he has seen so far, however.

"The first group is playing really well," the head man said. "We've got some young guys with the 2s and 3s that we're really trying to develop. Obviously, until we can scrimmage we don't get to see our run game to its fullest effect, but it's been good."

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