Vols must walk with thin ‘line’
Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010 4:30 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee will start two true freshmen, two sophomores and a senior on its offensive line against UAB. And there’s not many backups available.
It’s a thin line between success and failure.
Starting center Cody Pope may be out for a second game recovering from a severe stinger and concussion, and starting left guard JerQuari Schofield could be out two or three games after breaking a bone in his left foot.
“We can’t go look on the free-agent wire right now and pick up some guys on the street,” coach Derek Dooley said. “It’s what we are. We’ve got to coach them and go win with them.”
Dooley feels good about his offensive line when a healthy Pope and Schofield are a part of it, but he’s always been concerned how the line would fare if any linemen suffered injuries. He got a taste of it in 31-17 loss to Florida on Saturday.
The Gators constantly harassed Matt Simms and sacked the Volunteers quarterback six times. The line struggled to open holes for the running game, which netted only 29 yards.
“We struggled to get a hat on a hat a lot of times,” Dooley said. “They were doing some movement. We had some guys pop free. There were times we got whipped, and that’s OK. There was some confusion, poor technique.”
What’s left on the line is sophomore tackle Dallas Thomas, true freshman left guard James Stone — who’s been backing up both Thomas and Schofield — sophomore center Darrin Gooch, senior right guard Jarrod Shaw and true freshman right tackle Ja’Wuan James.
The lack of depth at offensive line has looming for Tennessee since last year. The Vols started four seniors — including two walk-ons — and starting right tackle Aaron Douglas left the program in the off season.
Shaw, whose three starts in eight games in 2009 was the only significant playing experience of any returning offensive lineman, has a bona fide backup in freshman Zach Fulton, and Dooley said Fulton will see quite a bit of playing time against the Blazers (1-2). Gooch’s backup, sophomore Carson Anderson, suffered a slight concussion on a kickoff return, and Dooley asked his assistants what would happen if he couldn’t play.
“We don’t really have a backup left guard or left tackle,” Dooley said. “Nobody else has really ever snapped. I brought that up — who’s our third center — and the coaches laughed at me. I’m like, ’It’s not funny.”’
The Vols will be facing a defensive line that is significantly more experienced with senior defensive end Bryant Turner, senior defensive tackle D.J. Reese, junior defensive tackle Elliott Henigan and freshman defensive end Connor Boyette.
Turner leads the Conference USA and is tied for seventh in the nation with four sacks so far this season and has forced a fumble.
There is one silver lining with the offensive line situation, and that’s promise for the future. If freshmen like Stone, Fulton and James and sophomores like Thomas stay healthy, their experience this season should make them all the better in the coming seasons.
“I’ve always said I think those guys are going to be good players,” Dooley said.