Wanted: one bell cow

The offensive line relies on cohesion more than any other area of a football team, yet it still needs one guy the others naturally follow ... the bell cow.

Tennessee O-lines featured some great bell cows through the years - guys like the late Harry Galbreath, Chad Clifton, Scott Wells and Arron Sears. This season, minus all five starters from the 2009 front, locating a bell cow is akin to locating a four-leaf clover. But line coach Harry Hiestand is determined to find one.

"It's very important," Hiestand said. "We're in the process of developing that person. It's important to have somebody out front leading the charge, no doubt."

Oddly enough, Tennessee's new-look line features one player of each class - a senior (Jarrod Shaw), a junior (Cody Pope), a sophomore (Dallas Thomas), a redshirt freshman (JerQuari Schofield) and a true freshman (JaWuan James). Obviously, veterans Shaw and Pope are bell-cow candidates by virtue of their maturity.

"We've got a couple of guys filling that role a little bit," Hiestand said. "Before I say who it is, though, I'd like to see a little more out of 'em."

Ideally, your bell cow would be a quality player who also is a vocal leader. But Hiestand says the key traits aren't quite so obvious. He's looking for someone who can do a few simple things.

"Just get everybody's attention when somebody might be wandering off or losing focus," the coach said. "He needs the ability to keep the group playing as a unit."

As noted earlier, cohesion - playing as a unit - means a lot across the blocking front.

"It's critical," Hiestand said. "It's everything. When you play as one - when you play truly as a unit - then you can function pretty well and give your offense a chance."

Because Tennessee's line is so inexperienced, Hiestand takes nothing for granted. His primary objective is for each lineman to know the call and the assignment on each snap.

"The first thing we've got to do is get each of our guys doing his job on each snap, execute the play that's been called," the Vol aide said. "Then that play has a chance. If we don't do that ... if there's a miscommunication - one guy's thinking one thing and one's thinking something else - that play never even gets started. That's the place we've got the most improvement to make right now."

Except for Shaw, who opened the first three games of 2009 at right tackle, none of Tennessee's line candidates has started at the college level. Obviously, that's a serious level of inexperience to overcome.

"Experience is an invaluable tool for anybody doing anything," Hiestand said. "You can't say, 'I've never done it but I'm going to be as good as if I'd done it a little bit.' Now, if you've always done it lousy and your fundamentals are poor, then it doesn't do you much good if that's your experience."

Still, a player gains something each time he battles in the trenches before 100,000 screaming fans.

"It's hard to explain what it's like to be totally on your own in one of these stadiums in one of these games," Hiestand said. "It's something you have to experience, so we would prefer a little experience."

The fact the O-line opened a gaping hole that Tauren Poole turned into a 49-yard gain on the first play of Tennessee's initial fall scrimmage was a positive development. Hiestand says the benefit was temporary, however.

"It's good but it doesn't mean very much, to be honest with you," he said. "The consistency of play over a period of time is what it takes to win. When you have that (big play) it's a good feeling for a second but what we're looking for is hardening these guys for one tough, physical season. Their ability to play 45, 50, 60 plays at a high level is what we're training them for."

Although Vol blockers lack maturity and experience, they exhibit plenty of determination and energy. Hiestand finds that encouraging.

"I'm pleased with their effort," he said. "The No. 1 thing you've got to have is effort, and the guys are coming out every day with the determination to improve. If we continue with that, that's all we can ask."


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