Harry problem

First-year Tennessee offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has a good sense of humor, which could be a real asset in the season ahead.

Hiestand (pronounced HE-stand) faces the monumental task of replacing all five starters from the 2009 offensive line. When asked following Tuesday's practice if he's ever encountered that challenge before, he flashed an incredulous look.

"No. I've never HEARD of it," he said. "Have you?"

Frankly, no. But that's the chore facing Hiestand, a 23-year coaching veteran whose most recent stops were as offensive line coach for the University of Illinois (1997-2004) and the Chicago Bears (2005-2009).

Preparing five new linemen to start in the rugged Southeastern Conference is like preparing five newborns to run the 40-yard dash. They have to walk before they can run ... and they must crawl before they can walk.

"The hardest thing," Hiestand said, "is that you're trying to work in a progression but it's not fast enough. When you really lack experience, you can't skip any of those steps. You get anxious and you want to get going and get 'em to learn the plays and all that."

With 12 of 15 spring workouts behind them, the young linemen thus far have learned how to line up.

"Their stances are very good," Hiestand said matter of factly. "You've got to work the stance out, so the progression is slower because they have so little experience. But you can't afford to skip the fundamentals, and we're not going to skip the fundamentals.

"We'll always continue to build the base, and then we'll grow into this other stuff."

The Vols held their second full-scale scrimmage of the spring last Saturday. After watching the workout on tape, Hiestand's initial impression was verified.

"We've got a long way to go," he said somberly.

Reportedly, there were a half-dozen fumbled snaps in the scrimmage. When a reporter asked Hiestand what went wrong, he grinned smugly.

"What do you think? Messed-up snaps," he said. "We couldn't get the ball to the quarterback. It's kind of obvious."

Part of the problem is that the top two centers are new to the position. Senior Victor Thomas played defensive tackle until this spring. Junior Cody Pope played offensive tackle and guard prior to last week.

"We'd been working Cody at tackle and guard this spring; he's only had a couple of days there," Hiestand said. "Some of it was that. I'm not making excuses for him because there's no excuse. But the more he does it, the better he's getting at it. We just need more work with it because he hadn't been doing it all spring."

Head coach Derek Dooley said following Tuesday's practice that Pope "seems to have found a home" at center. Hiestand didn't go quite that far.

"He's been around," the line coach said. "He's got some experience; that's helpful. He's able to give some direction and help steer the other guys."


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