O-line holds key

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney admits he's unsure what Tennessee's attack will look like this fall. There's a good reason for that: It's called the offensive line.

With all five starters missing from the 2009 line, Chaney must figure out who the five replacements will be. Once that task is complete, he must figure out whether the five replacements function better as run blockers or pass protectors. Once that task is complete, he can begin formulating a scheme to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

The first order of business, however, is to find competent replacements for the five departed blockers. How big a task is that?

"That question has come up a lot," Chaney said with a laugh. "Poor Harry (offensive line coach Harry Hiestand). He's getting hammered with it."

Minus Chris Scott, Aaron Douglas, Jacques McClendon, Cody Sullins, Cory Sullins and Vladimir Richard, Tennessee actually must replace its top six blockers from '09.

The only returning lineman with any meaningful college experience is rising senior Jarrod Shaw, who started the first three games of 2009 at right tackle before losing his job to Douglas.

Given all of the above, it's understandable that Vol fans project the O-line to be awful. It's also understandable that the line candidates are tired of hearing how inept they are.

"I'll say this about those kids in that (offensive line) room: They've heard it till they're blue in the face," Chaney said. "They're sick of hearing how everybody can't do this and can't do that, and they're working their tail ends off. I'm real proud of 'em. It's a difficult task, to say the least, but the guys are working hard, and I'm real pleased with that."

The coordinator readily concedes that the makeup of the blocking front will help dictate the style of offense the Vols play next fall.

"A lot," he said. "You've got to be able to control the line of scrimmage and find ways to do so. That always dictates a lot of what happens."

Tennessee's offensive holes aren't confined to the line, however. The Vols must replace a tailback who ran for 1,300 yards and a quarterback who passed for 2,800 yards last fall. As a result, a lot of new faces are battling for starting jobs this spring.

"We're young," Chaney said. "We're developing some good things, I think. There's a lot of competition at a lot of positions. A lot of things are still unsettled but I think the guys up to this date have worked hard to pick up a new system."

Due to head coaching changes each of the past two seasons, Tennessee's offensive players are learning their third system in three years. That's no simple task.

"There's a little bit of carryover from the past system to this one," Chaney said, "but not a tremendous amount. They're having to learn a lot. We went with the whole-part-whole theory. We've installed a ton of offense, and they're a little rugged right now technically, so we're helping 'em back up and clean up some of the technical issues. When they do, they're able to compete for positions.

"What we're trying to do is swamp 'em (with information), and we've done that. We've got their heads spinning now, so we'll see how they compete from this point forward."

In spite of new terminology and some new wrinkles, Chaney says head coach Derek Dooley's 2010 offense shouldn't be drastically different than Lane Kiffin's 2009 attack.

"I don't think so," the coordinator said. "Coach Dooley is dead set on being able to run the football, and that usually leads to play-action passing. Whatever we can do best is what we're going to do. We'll lean on our best players to make plays.

"Quite honestly, it's a tough question right now to answer exactly what direction we'll end up leaning when we get there in the fall. It'll be interesting to see. I'm interested in it, too."

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