Young UT linemen likened to newborns
Posted: Monday, April 12, 2010 6:36 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s offensive line is dotted with young, unknown faces. So for coach Derek Dooley, spring practice is all about one thing: baby steps.
“Well, you know when a newborn comes out and he can’t really even crawl yet,” Dooley said. “Our first goal really is to get them to crawl, and right now we’re kind of lying on our back going, ‘What is this new world I’m in?’”
The Volunteers graduated a number of seasoned offensive line veterans like Chris Scott, Jacques McClendon, Vladimir Richard and Cody and Cory Sullins.
Sophomore tackle Aaron Douglas was the most experienced returning player after making 10 starts last season but decided to leave the team in March for personal reasons.
That left only one player with any starting experience and three more with any playing experience at all.
Senior Jarrod Shaw started the first three games of last season at offensive guard before Cory Sullins won the spot, but even he’s like a fresh face now.
With few viable options at center, Dooley has Shaw snapping the ball during a few practices.
Senior Victor Thomas and redshirt freshman Daniel Hood have also rotated snaps at center, and junior guard Cody Pope tried out at the center spot on Saturday.
“We moved Shaw to center and next thing you know the shotgun snaps are dribbling back,” Dooley said. “It’s not his fault. It’s day one for him, not day eight. So anytime you’re making this adjustments it’s kind of ‘start all over.’”
That doesn’t mean there’s not any hope for UT.
Sophomore Dallas Tho-mas, who at least played in each of Tennessee’s 13 games last year, has shown promise at left tackle.
“Of all the guys, he seems the most comfortable,” Dooley said. “He’s playing with the best technique, consistently. He’s playing the most aggressively.
“As long as he continues on this path, he can be a good player for us.”
Other players stepping up to the challenge include freshman guard JerQuari Schofield and freshman tackle Ja’Wuan James.
The Vols linemen are also getting some guidance from senior tight end Luke Stocker, who’s helping line the players up before snaps — something that used to fall to the Sullins twins or former quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
“Luke’s kind of like having another O-lineman out there,” Dallas Thomas said. “He’s seen it all, you could say, and he’s proven what he can do on this level. He’s a guy no one minds listening to.”
Dooley tries to balance the kinds of things the Vols defense is throwing at the offensive line between difficult plays and simpler ones.
He wants them to be able to build some confidence in their play, but he also needs to know how they’re going to handle it come fall.
“The other team — you know they’re not going to be simple for you, so at some point you’ve got to throw them in the hot water, and let’s see if they can survive,” he said.
Whatever it takes, Dooley promises the line will be ready by the time Tennessee tips off against UT Martin in the Sept. 4 opener.
“We’ll be ready. Sometimes those newborns, some guys walk at seven months, some at six, sometimes it takes them a year and half, some of them are running right out of the gate. We’ll be ready come fall,” the coach said.
The Volunteers play in their annual Orange-and-White game this Saturday in Knoxville.
The game is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. It will be broadcast on Dish Network.
Teams will be chosen for the intra-squad scrimmage on Wednesday.