KNOXVILLE — Vladimir Richard has heard new, outspoken head coach Lane Kiffin call the University of Tennessee’s offensive line the “weak link on the team” several times the past few weeks.
The Volunteers mammoth right guard doesn’t necessarily agree with the assessment, but he admits last season was a “huge disappointment” for the once-praised group.
“As a (rising) senior, being here so long, working so hard, I just took that personally,” Richard said of Kiffin’s words. “So did the other guys.
“But I didn’t take it as disrespect or whatever. We have a lot of young guys, and we are slim at that position.”
The same nucleus that allowed an NCAA-low four sacks in 2007 struggled with the rest of UT’s offense last season.
“We went from setting an NCAA record for fewest sacks in a season to giving up over 25 sacks, and we weren’t that good in the run game until the last two games,” rising senior center Josh McNeil said. “Obviously, we have a lot to prove and a whole lot of work to do to get back where we want to be.”
Kiffin praised the offense’s hot start to Tuesday’s practice, noting the line’s energy and lack of costly penalties during team drills.
It’s typically surprising for offenses — particularly in a new system — to start well, but Richard said he expected positive results.
Richard, McNeil and fellow rising seniors Chris Scott and Jacques McClendon of Chattanooga have spent the past five Saturdays in UT’s indoor complex, working out and studying their roles in the new scheme.
“We’ve been going through the plays,” Richard said. “We’ve been up there watching film. We’ve been getting in extra cardio. We’ve just been doing things to get more chemistry as a unit, because we know it starts with us.
“We know that we’re slim in the offensive line, so we just felt like we have to get chemistry. So every Saturday we came and worked through plays, and that just helped out a whole lot. If we would have never went through all that, I felt (Tuesday) would have came out and been stumbles and stuff. But we kind of got through the kinks on those Saturdays.”
New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said he was concerned about the lack of offensive line depth, but that wouldn’t scale back plans for a physical spring.
“If you look across the country, everyone wants more depth in their line of scrimmage,” said Chaney, who came to UT following stints as Purdue’s offensive coordinator and the St. Louis Rams tight end coach. “As soon as your more comfortable there, you’ll want more depth at your wide receiver. That’s what we do as coaches. We complain about our depth.
“Without that, what would we have to talk about?”
PRO DAY RESULTS
Thirteen former Vols worked out for NFL scouts on campus for Wednesday’s pro day.
Workouts are closed to the media, but some players reportedly did well. Receivers Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe were unofficially listed at 4.36 and 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Taylor, who measured slightly more than 5 foot, 11 inches, added an impressive 36-inch vertical leap.
Defensive tackle Demonte Bolden from Chattanooga recorded a 33-inch vertical leap — not bad for a 6-foot-4, 295-pounder. Bolden was slowed later in the day by a tweaked leg muscle, though.
Bolden led the lifters with 26 repetitions at 225 pounds on the bench press. Undersized linebacker Ellix Wilson had 23 reps, and defensive back DeAngelo Willingham had 20. Most of the linemen didn’t lift.
Defensive end Robert Ayers, considered a possible first-round pick by several analysts, mostly stuck with interviews but went though a few agility drills that scouts requested.
“I wanted to come out and show that I’m athletic enough to play in space, and that I’ve got good hips and flexibility,” Ayers said. “From talking to the coaches, they feel like I did a good job. Every coach I talked to said they liked what they saw.”
Other Vols who worked out included defensive tackle Walter Fisher; offensive linemen Anthony Parker and Ramon Foster; defensive back DeAngelo Willingham; athlete JaKouri Williams; and linebackers Ellix Wilson, Adam Myers-White and Nevin McKenzie.
Tailback Arian Foster didn’t work out with his former teammates, opting for a later date in California.
“A few of the guys opened up some eyes,” said former Vols quarterback Condredge Holloway, now UT’s assistant athletic director for student-athlete relations. “I heard from several scouts that they were pleasantly surprised with what they saw.
“I was happy to see that Robert didn’t rest on his laurels from the combine. He came in ready to work and impressed everyone again. Lucas Taylor ... definitely improved his stock.”
The NFL draft is set for April 25-26 in New York City.
“It’s really a blessing to be in this situation,” Parker said. “As a little kid, everybody dreams of playing in the NFL and the NBA. To be here and to get this opportunity is a great thing.”