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Offensive line depth top priority for Vols

Offensive line depth top priority for Vols

Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 7:00 pm

KNOXVILLE — With four of five starters returning from last year’s offensive line, competition for playing time is fierce.
Building depth along the line is critical according to head coach Butch Jones, so he’s looking for six players capable of starting.
“Competition is healthy,” Jones said. “And I think they are pushing each other and also we are developing depth. We are developing number six and that is important. That is why competition across the board is extremely healthy for the football team.”
The main competition is for a starting guard spot, with senior Alex Bullard and junior Marcus Jackson fighting for snaps.
“Competing is not really that big of a deal for me,” Jackson said. “I think it’s kind of fun. Every day I know I have to come with a good mindset. I consider it a challenge. Knowing every snap i have to be on to 110 percent to get better every day.”
While challenging for a starting spot, Bullard has developed into group’s “swing man,” with the ability to play any position on the line if needed.
“Anywhere they need me I am comfortable,” Bullard said. “That is my job to be the swing man in case a certain situation goes down. We have to have more depth and I am that guy that can move around right now. We are still looking at a lot of different things.”
Bullard’s desire to play anywhere that helps the team hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Alex has done a great job,” Jones said. “He is one of those individuals that just comes to work every day. He doesn’t care where he plays. He loves football.”
That progression, an attitude of “last year wasn’t good enough,” is something coach Mahoney has stressed to his lineman this spring. Jackson said the group is coming together but there is plenty of room for improvement. Specifically, he pointed to tempo, physicality and focusing on fundamentals as areas where they can collectively get better.
“We’re starting to gel but at the same time, we need to get things better and you always need to improve,” Jackson said. “We have a long way to go before everything comes together.  It’s a process and you have to know that every day you have to get better. You have to come with that mindset of never being satisfied or it’s not going to work.”
“You can always improve, nothing is ever perfect,” he added. “They say practice makes perfect but practice just gets you closer to perfect.”
SOME SPACE: Jacques Smith isn’t someone who likes to sit still, especially on the football field.
As the Vols transition into coach Jancek’s defensive scheme, Smith has found himself moving around all over the gridiron, lining up in different areas and being asked to make plays in space. And that is perfectly fine with him.
“They have me moving a lot,” Smith said. “That is what I like to do, I don’t like sitting in the gap and playing ball. That is just not my game. I like to move and come in different spots and places and keep the offense on alert for the LEO. They know I am coming and I know they are going to be looking out for me and trying to change the protection towards me. If they make a mistake with that it is a reward in my hands.
“That is what I really like about this defense and what they are going to continue to emphasize with me and guys like LaTroy Lewis and Corey Vereen. We are those type of guys that need to move around and are versatile guys that can play in spaces well.”
While Smith is excited about the role he is playing in the defense this spring, his versatility will only increase as the installation of the schemes and techniques continues into the fall.

Published in The Messenger 4.11.13

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