KNOXVILLE -- For the second time in three seasons, it's been difficult to spot grass stains on the uniform of a Tennessee quarterback.
Jonathan Crompton, like Erik Ainge two years ago, has enjoyed the lack of pocket pressure during his senior season. Some of the same linemen are responsible.
"Knock on wood, but yeah, it's been great," Crompton said before Wednesday's practice.
The Volunteers haven't allowed an NCAA-low four sacks like they did in 2007, but they lead the Southeastern Conference with 11 sacks allowed for 81 yards through 11 games.
UT is tied for 11th nationally in that category, and several option-based teams highlight the top 10.
The Vols hope to finish this weekend and their bowl game atop the SEC, and a few notches higher than their current national ranking.
"It would say a lot for our O-line, for what they've overcome and how hard they've worked," Crompton said. "They do a tremendous job of giving me time to throw the ball. I normally only get hit once or twice a game, which, to me, that's outstanding. I'll take that any day.
"I give all the credit to them. They work their (tails) off in practice, and they get up here early every day to watch the film and make sure they know what they're doing."
Senior guard Jacques McClendon, a former Baylor School star and three-year UT starter, said protecting Ainge and Crompton has started with pride.
"Every offensive lineman wants to keep his quarterback clean," McClendon said. "No one wants to get beat, turn around and see their quarterback on the ground. That's a bad feeling.
"Jonathan's our captain and our leader on offense, and everything starts with us giving him time to do his thing."
First-year head coach Lane Kiffin and his assistants ordered most of the offensive linemen to lose weight this past offseason, as David Cutcliffe did during his brief second stint as the Vols' offensive coordinator.
Inserting redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas at right tackle after two games and tinkering with the blocking scheme were two bold moves that fortified the front five, Kiffin said.
"Aaron's played extremely well," Kiffin said. "As I've said before, your first year, one of the hardest things is to understand your players and your team. You can't possibly know the things to you need to know (until) you've gone to war with them.
"If we knew that at the time, maybe he plays earlier, and maybe there's some different outcomes."
Other factors were counted on, though, and they haven't disappointed. Big Chris Scott has finally emerged during his senior season as the impressive left tackle coaches thought they'd signed out of the Atlanta area, and 1,000-yard rusher Montario Hardesty has picked up blitzes the way coaches expect from a fifth-year senior tailback.
"I wouldn't say it's a hidden talent," Crompton said of Hardesty's pass blocking. "A lot of people know that he, especially with his size, he'll get up there and stick his nose in there and take a hit and block somebody and give me an extra second or so. That's a big advantage, having running backs that will do that for you."
Tight ends and fullbacks have helped the cause, though they've also been used as pass-catching weapons in part because Douglas and Scott haven't needed much help on the edges.
"We've been having a lot more fun lately, which is great, but we're not done," Crompton said. "We need to keep getting better and go out there these last two games and take care of business."
'OK' holiday practice
Kiffin enjoyed continuing UT's "last tackle" drill for seniors after Thursday morning's practice, but he said the actual practice could have been better.
"I thought practice was OK today," Kiffin said. "The guys were a little loose. It's always hard on this day to keep them focused, because a lot of family members are around that they are going to see afterward.
"We'll come back Friday and have meetings and a walk-through before we take off (for Kentucky)."
Kiffin said recently reinstated freshman free safety Janzen Jackson has practiced more than well enough to retain his starting position. Jackson missed the Memphis game for an "administrative" suspension and missed the last two games before attempted aggravated robbery charges against him were dropped.
"I'm very confident; he looks great," Kiffin said. "He will be playing every snap on defense and special teams for us and, hopefully, pick up where he left off.
"The last game he played he was the SEC freshman of the week (against South Carolina), so we look for him to continue that."
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