Another brick in the wall

Imagine Tennessee's offensive line as a blocking wall - literally. Now imagine that eight bricks are missing in the middle of the wall.

Replacing those eight bricks has kept Harry Hiestand really busy in his first spring as Tennessee's offensive line coach. Minus all five starters, plus backups Vladimir Richard, Josh McNeil and William Brimfield from the 2009 O-line depth chart, he's given just about every guy with a pulse a look at just about every spot across the blocking front.

Simply determining who fits best at each position has kept the Vol aide hopping in recent weeks.

"That's the trick," Hiestand said. "I mean, there's not a heck of a lot of choices right now. We've had 'em all everywhere we can have them now, so we'll be able to go to training camp knowing pretty much where to line 'em up."

By most accounts, the line's run blocking was better than its pass protecting in the first two scrimmages. When asked for his opinion, however, Hiestand shrugged and deadpanned, "Yeah, well ... I don't know if either has been better, to be honest with you."

Although he still faces a truly formidable task, Hiestand says he has noted a few positive developments among the offensive linemen this spring.

"In the last scrimmage Coach (Derek Dooley) put 'em in some really tough situations where they had to bounce right back ... come right back on the field and execute plays," Hiestand said. "They weren't perfect by a long stretch but they made a few more plays than we've been making.

"They gave our offense a chance to make a play a few more times than they did before. As long as we can keep seeing that, we'll get there."

Given the glaring lack of experience among his troops, Hiestand clearly faces the most overwhelming task among UT's coaches this season. Until his line can run block and pass protect adequately, progress at the other offensive positions will seem almost imperceptible.

"The process right now is a little tough on everybody," he said. "It's tough on the whole offense when we (linemen) are so inexperienced and struggling so much."

Still, Hiestand saw glimmers of hope in last weekend's scrimmage ... glimmers that suggest his linemen are at least in the right positions and headed in the right direction these days.

"I think that was encouraging - that they had to suck it up and fight through, concentrate and make some plays," he said. "They made some plays and there were some plays we didn't make that we've got to improve and make the next time."

The "next time" will be in Saturday's Orange & White Game. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Neyland Stadium.


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