published Sunday, March 28th, 2010

UT offense 3-for-3 at goal

The Vols' new linemen up front get the necessary push for the 2-yard scoring plays.


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- Three 2-yard plays were one big deal for the Tennessee football team's new-look offensive line Saturday.

The five new starters up front outdid their defensive line teammates in all three goal-line plays, meaning all three plays resulted in touchdowns.

"Oh, man, that was great," center Victor Thomas said. "I loved it."

Goal-line drills often are the most intense part of team practice periods. Offensive and defensive teammates usually form two bunches and celebrate wildly when their side wins the play.

It's usually near the end of practice, too, giving the victorious side a whole night -- or multiple nights, in spring practice -- to remind the losers what happened.

"Awesome. Just awesome," quarterback Nick Stephens said. "No one wants to lose in that situation."

Thomas, who moved from defensive line for UT's bowl practices last season, was as happy as anyone.

"Seeing Vic -- a guy that used to get up in our faces on the D-line and try to punk us around -- and seeing him doing a complete 180 and getting us pumped up and driving the D-line off the ball, it was pretty cool," Stephens said.

Defensive end Chris Walker and strongside linebacker LaMarcus Thompson joked that UT's offense shouldn't brag too much about their success.

"They have to win some of them, right? I mean, we can't win them all," Thompson said. "They got us a little bit. But come on, they got like 1 or 2 yards."

Added Walker: "I wouldn't say it was an upset. They got 2 yards. Two yards, man. If they can't get 2 yards, we're all in trouble."

Both defenders admitted they were kidding and praised UT's offensive line, which Thursday learned that Freshman All-America left tackle Aaron Douglas -- the only returning starter from last season -- would leave the program.

"They're coming out here hard, and they actually have something to prove," Walker said. "Just playing against them, we've already seen they're going to be better than people think. I just want everybody to know that the offensive line is going to be good. They're going to come together, and they're going to be a good unit."

Thompson said competition from the offensive line "is only going to make all of us better."

"We had a little trouble there last year sometimes scoring on the goal line, so, no, it's not a bad thing at all," Thompson added. "It's a new offensive line, and they're all getting their keys, so it's good to see them coming at us like that.

"Now we just need to get them back."

Thomas laughed at the defense's jokes about needing only 1 or 2 yards to score at the goal line. And he said street cred from his days on the defensive line allowed him to call them excuse-makers.

"Yeah, they made excuses. But, hey, you've got to go out there and play every down," Thomas said. "It hurts your pride when you're a competitor. You never want to lose. You want to win every play.

"So, no, I'm not buying their excuses at all. It's tighter (near the goal line). They've got more people in the box."

First-year head coach Derek Dooley said he wasn't surprised to see success from his front five.

"Look, we've got some good young (offensive) linemen, and we're going to bring in some more good young linemen," Dooley said. "I have no doubts about their competitive spirit and ability. It's just a matter of experience."

And that experience will only improve with time, Stephens predicted.

"Punching the ball in and seeing them get fired up, it just shows progress," he said. "That's something this whole offense needs, and it starts with them. And they're doing a great job.

"They've got so much to learn, along with me and everybody else on the offense. The jumps that they're going to be making from now until the end of spring to the summer to fall camp, it's going to be tremendous. And we're all really excited to see that."

The Vols will return to practice Tuesday.

Other contacts for Wes Rucker at www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

about Wes Rucker...

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