Rave reviews

With four of 2009's starting offensive linemen out of eligibility and the other one missing spring practice due to personal matters, you'd figure Tennessee's quarterback might be raving mad.

Instead, he's just raving. Rising senior Nick Stephens, the Vols' most experienced QB, really likes what he is seeing from the patchwork crew of blockers he's working behind this spring.

"It's unreal how good they're doing for not having much experience," Stephens said. "They have all the confidence in the world. By the end of spring they're going to be great. It's unreal. It really is."

It appears that the No. 1 line currently consists of senior Jarrod Shaw (6-4, 322), junior Cody Pope (6-6, 290), senior Victor Thomas (6-3, 282), sophomore Dallas Thomas (6-5, 284) and redshirt freshman JerQuari Schofield (6-6, 312).

Shaw started the first three games of 2009 at right tackle before surrendering the job to Aaron Douglas, the Vol currently attending to personal matters. Pope and Dallas Thomas have never started a game. Converted defensive tackle Victor Thomas and Schofield have never played an offensive snap at the collegiate level.

Given this overwhelming lack of experience, it is little wonder that many observers peg the offensive line as Tennessee's most glaring weakness. If the blockers feel insulted by such talk, however, they are keeping it to themselves.

"They haven't said much about that," Stephens said. "They're all about hard work. They come out here each day, listen to what the coach has to say and work their butts off. They're doing what they need to do. They're learning very quickly."

Another area of concern for the 2010 Vols is quarterback. Stephens has six career starts to his credit but all of them occurred in 2008. He saw just three games of mop-up duty last fall, throwing a grand total of 13 passes.

Still, he's light-years ahead of the other QBs in terms of college experience. Second-year juco transfer Nick Lamaison, a sophomore who redshirted last season, and mid-term freshman Tyler Bray have yet to take a snap in a college game. First-year juco transfer Matt Simms, a junior, completed 2 of 4 passes at Louisville in 2008 before spending 2009 at junior college.

Despite the level of inexperience, senior tight end Luke Stocker is encouraged by what he has seen from the QBs thus far.

"I think they're coming along pretty good," he said. "They're making some good decisions. Everyone out here's got a long way to go - quarterbacks, tight ends, defense, offense, everybody. We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

Minus last year's No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 tailback and all five first-team linemen, Tennessee's offense features a lot of new faces this spring. The fact a new offensive system is being installed complicates matters even further.

"It's all the same concepts but a lot of different terminology, so everybody's got to pick up that," Stocker noted. "There's a lot of (mid-term) freshmen out here that you wouldn't normally have in spring ball, so they're having to learn an offense, which is frustrating."

Given that Stephens is a senior quarterback with six career starts, you'd expect that he might be emerging as a team leader on offense. Head coach Derek Dooley says it's a bit early for that to happen, however.

"He's like everybody. The first thing they have to do is take care of their own business because everything is so new," Dooley said. "It's hard to start worrying about impacting others until you've really got a good grasp of what you've got to do. I think Nick's in that category, like all of the quarterbacks."

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