O&W Game is important

It's only spring. It's only a glorified intrasquad scrimmage. It's a long time till September. It doesn't count.

All of those comments regarding the Orange & White Game are true. But you might not want to make them in front of Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. He says there will be plenty at stake when the Vols hold their annual spring fling Saturday at 2 in Neyland Stadium.

Everything the players do in this outing matters.

"I think it always does," Chaney said this week. "Everything they do around here Coach (Derek) Dooley is evaluating. Every time you walk in Neyland Stadium your butt better be ready to play. I don't care who you're playing. Be ready to go. We certainly expect our guys to show up to play."

Saturday provides Vol fans with their first look at an attack that has lost a 1,300-yard rusher (Montario Hardesty), a 2,800-yard passer (Jonathan Crompton) and all five offensive line starters from last fall.

That's a tremendous amount of manpower to replace at once. Still, Chaney seems pleased with his youthful band of would-be replacements.

"I like our guys," he said. "It's difficult when you have some seniors out. Luke Stocker (shoulder) is battling some stuff and Gerald Jones (ankle) is battling some stuff. But, when those guys go down, the next guy's got to step up. There's a lot of competition. I like our kids. They're good kids, and they're working hard."

Jones was UT's leading receiver last fall with 46 catches and 680 receiving yards. Tight end Stocker was third in catches (29) and second in TD receptions (5). Both are hoping to play Saturday.

The hot topic this spring has been an offensive line that must replace three top reserves from 2009, in addition to the five starters. That's such an overwhelming task that many Vol fans already are pinpointing the blocking front as a glaring weakness.

Asked if the "weak link" talk is motivating the offensive linemen this spring, Chaney flashed a smug grin.

"It would motivate me if I were playing there," he said, "but I don't know that they even contemplate it. (They're thinking:) Just go to work, get as good as you can, then go play."

The new line is showing progress in run blocking but reportedly is struggling a bit with pass protecting. That's typical for spring practice, however.

"Certainly," Chaney said. "I think that's pretty common. Pass blocking is a tougher skill to learn."

Asked if the line's superiority in run blocking vs. pass protecting might affect his playcalling this fall, Chaney laughed.

"I hope not," he said. "I don't want anything doing that. Hopefully, that won't be the case."

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