published Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

UT O-line sees need to work

KNOXVILLE — Ja'Wuan James and the rest of Tennessee's offensive line probably just wanted to move on.

Instead, a group that entered the season as a source of optimism had to look back at the video of the Volunteers' 33-23 loss at Florida last Saturday and revisit a tough afternoon.

"It definitely looked like they outworked us," the sophomore right tackle said after Tuesday morning's practice. "That was the disappointing part. Even myself, at times it looked like they were getting away from us at the end of blocks, guys scraping away at the end making tackles."

The Volunteers (2-1, 0-1 SEC) struggled to move the Gators' talented front four and finished with an ugly rushing total of minus-9 yards. It was the second time in three games this season they struggled to run the football, and though the fault doesn't fall entirely on the offensive line, it's imperative the Vols fix the problem with the upcoming schedule and receiver Justin Hunter's season-ending knee injury limiting the passing attack.

"We're priding ourselves on our running game this year, and it just hasn't been there," said left tackle Dallas Thomas. "That's what we're really going to key on [this off week]: Come out and focus and get better on our run game. That's what Coach [Derek] Dooley wants, so we've got to give it to him."

Four starters returned from a line that improved as the season wore on last season, which created high expectations for a group that's still starting four sophomores. Perhaps the expectations were a little too high, and though the talent appears to be there, the line still is developing chemistry and continuity.

"We can't really use young as an excuse," James said. "I'm not young; nobody's really young. Everybody's got to keep their head up and just keep on working. [Line] Coach [Harry] Hiestand's not going to let us keep our heads down. He's going to keep on pushing us everyday."

The Vols have been good enough in protecting quarterback Tyler Bray in UT's pass-first offense. Florida hit and pressured Bray plenty last week, but the Gators had only three sacks in 48 attempts even after UT abandoned its run game due to ineffectiveness and a significant deficit.

But the Vols' 82 yards per game on the ground ranks 105th in the country and last in the SEC.

"It's more the scheme," Thomas said. "We're physical up front. It's just knowing what to do and not being afraid to make a mistake."

Three off-week practices and a winnable game against Buffalo on Oct. 1 give the Vols some time to address their problems and experiment with different personnel. James said freshman Antonio Richardson, a highly touted recruit out of Nashville, received some more first-team work Tuesday. Freshman Marcus Jackson, who enrolled in school in January, worked with the first team at left guard in place of starter Alex Bullard during the portion of practice open to the media.

The Vols feel confident they can fix the problems.

"We need to keep doing what we're doing better and just listen more and invest in Coach Hiestand's technique and really try to put it out on the field," James said. "We go into every game expecting to win. [Florida] went out there and played hard. They played well.

"We're just going to keep our heads up, go out here and get better and just approach the next game the same way."

Then the offensive line can watch the video in a different way.

Correspondent Matt Dixon contributed to this story.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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