Staff Photo by Patrick Smith
University of Tennessee tight end Cody Pope is tackled by Eric Berry in the second half of Saturday's Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. The white team won 38-16.
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s previous football coaching staff practically begged Cody Pope to put on weight, but the long-haired, 6-foot-5 vegetarian from San Diego struggled to pack on the soy pounds.
Pope finally cracked the 300-pound mark during last Christmas break, which he hoped would end his two-year quest for a full-time position.
The new staff agreed, but with an ironic twist. Lane Kiffin and his assistants wanted Pope to focus on offensive tackle — and lose weight.
“It’s all good, though,” the now-290-pound Pope said. “I might get to play now.”
He might play a lot. He might start.
The new staff’s zone-blocking offensive line scheme, which typically emphasizes quickness over pure power, has quickly enhanced Pope’s role.
“Cody has really been a real surprise to us, as far as coming in and picking things up,” Kiffin said after Thursday’s rain-soaked practice at Haslam Field. “The system has really helped him.
“It’s not a system that relies on really big linemen. You don’t have to be really big to play in this system, but you’ve got to be quick and athletic. He’s done great.”
Pope echoed many of his teammates’ kind words for their new coaches’ simplified scheme after former coordinator Dave Clawson’s complex alignment flips.
“A lot of these coaches came from the NFL,” Pope said. “And they have such elite players in the NFL that they try to just simplify things ... and let guys do their thing.
“The coaches say, ‘If you’re not sure what to do, just fire out and hit somebody in front of you.’ It’s hard to mess that up if you hit somebody.”
Seniors-to-be Chris Scott, Vladimir Richard, Josh McNeil and Jacques McClendon bring starting experience from left tackle to right guard, but a new starter will be at right tackle — likely Pope, redshirted tight end convert Aaron Douglas or jumbo-sized sophomore-to-be William Brimfield.
“Honestly, it’s spring ball, and they’re going to try everybody everywhere,” Pope said. “There’s an opportunity for everybody, not just me. We’re all just trying to compete.”
Pope would like to settle into a position after rotating “all over the place” — from center to guard to tackle to tight end — his first two years on campus.
“If he played any guard today, it’s because he lined up wrong, which wouldn’t surprise me a heck of a lot,” new UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney joked before praising Pope’s spring start.
“We feel like Cody’s been bouncing around a little bit, I guess, in his past here, and we just wanted to give him a home and see if he can compete for that position at right tackle,” Chaney added. “We haven’t moved Cody a lot, and he’s done everything we’ve asked. He’s done a real nice job, and he’s competing hard.
“All of them are, for the most part. They’re picking things up. It’s kind of foreign to them, what we’re trying to teach them. It’s a complete new system for them, but they’re doing a nice job.”
Sophomore-to-be wide receiver Ahmad Paige practiced in full pads Thursday for the first time since he left Neyland Stadium in an ambulance two weeks ago after crashing headfirst into a brick wall beyond the south end zone.
“I can’t complain,” Paige said. “It’s good to be back out there actually running around and everything. I think I did everything I could, for the most part. I didn’t have any problems, really. I didn’t get banged around too much.”
Paige said he vividly remembered “everything” from the night of his scare.
“I remember running the fade, and falling and slipping,” Paige said. “I kind of slid into (the wall), and the thing about it is, I didn’t realize the wall was right there. It was kind of a last-minute thing, and it kind of jolted me for a second. It was just an accident.
“I think it definitely looked a lot worse than it was. It was definitely a little blown out of proportion, I feel like. Maybe I’m wrong, but I didn’t feel like the ambulance and all that was really necessary. But they did it for precautionary reasons, and better safe than sorry, I guess. It’s all good. Here I am, right?”
Kiffin said Thursday “was probably the best practice we’ve had this spring,” and the offense “defensive responded” to a disappointing Tuesday effort.
Wes Brown, who started all last season at defensive end as a junior, has at least temporarily shifted inside to tackle, where he hopes to start opposite Dan Williams. Brown said he nearly volunteered to move before coaches asked him and would happily do “whatever is best for the team.” Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron said the Vols were deeper at end, and he wanted to “start our best four guys.”