Dallas Thomas, a 6-5, 284-pound sophomore, is running first-team at the all-important left tackle position. As the protector of the quarterback's blind side, his pass blocking must be exceptional.
Head coach Derek Dooley this week called Thomas "the most consistent performer" in the blocking front, adding: "He's been a real steady hand at left tackle."
Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand characterized Thomas as "a big guy that's athletic," then added: "How fast each guy picks up what to do - the techniques to use, the new system, the calls, the adjustments to the defense - it all comes at different stages. Everybody learns at a different pace, and he's picked it up a little faster than we thought he might. He has no experience but he's done a good job, as far as picking things up on the move."
Playing right tackle is mid-term freshman Ja'Wuan James, profiled yesterday. Dooley called the 6-7, 320-pounder "a very mature and balanced young man. He doesn't get too frustrated when things don't go well. He doesn't have a lot of highs or lows. He's got a real even keel. He stays focused on improvement, and that's a hard thing for a young guy to do."
The right guard is fifth-year senior Jarrod Shaw, a 6-4, 322-pounder who started three games in 2009 at right tackle. Vol coaches hope last fall's experience will serve him well in 2010.
"That's helpful," Hiestand said. "He has a good feel for things. He helps the young guys in there, and that's a positive."
The first-team left guard is redshirt freshman JerQuari Schofield, a 6-6, 312-pounder who brings an explosive element to the game.
"I think Schofield has a chance to be a real good player," Dooley said. "He's a young guy; he's got a lot of mass to him. And when he hits you, you don't want to get hit by him because he's going to knock every one of you about 20 feet back. He's got a lot of explosive power."
The most unsettled position in the line also may be the most important one - center. Victor Thomas, a 6-3, 282-pound senior, moved over from defensive tackle and held the first-team job for most of spring practice. Cody Pope, a 6-6, 290-pound junior, moved inside from guard 10 days ago, however, and reportedly has been a pleasant surprise.
"He's got some experience," Hiestand said of Pope. "He's an older guy who has been around (the offense) it longer. He can see things and recognize things a little bit better. Victor was on defense for a long time, so that transition's a little bit tougher for Vic. Right now Cody seems a little more comfortable, as far as recognizing things and adjustments."
If Pope holds on at center, Thomas could wind up competing for playing time at one of the guard spots.
"Vic can play guard," Hiestand said. "We're going to keep working him at center, though, because that's an area we've got to make sure we're all right."