KNOXVILLE - Derek Dooley isn't hitting the panic button on his struggling offensive line.
Tennessee struggled running the football against Montana and Florida, but the Volunteers' second-year coach has reiterated that the problem extends beyond the offensive line to UT's running backs and perimeter blocking.
"I think it's everybody," Dooley said after Thursday morning's practice. "We ran it good against Cincinnati. I'm not in the desperation mode everybody else is in. We had two games we've not run it well at all. We just need to keep building and getting better, and we'll do that."
Three starters on the line -- left tackle Dallas Thomas (resting his knee), left guard Zach Fulton (left the field wearing a protective boot on his foot) and right guard Alex Bullard -- sat out Thursday's workout, the last of the week as UT heads into its open date.
The Vols have had the chance to work some younger players into the lineup, with freshmen Antonio Richardson and Marcus Jackson working on the left side and JerQuari Schofield at right guard.
UT's line still consists of four sophomores and a junior, and Dooley admitted the unit might have been a little overrated.
"I think they’re playing significantly better than they were last year," he said. "Are they playing the best they’re capable of? Absolutely not. I’ve told you guys from the beginning, my whole deal is are you better today than you were yesterday, and that’s all I’m worried about. It requires patience that doesn’t exist in athletics, and I recognize that.
"It doesn’t mean that we’re happy with how we’re playing, it doesn’t mean that we lower our standards, but there’s a realistic approach of improvement. I do think that contributes to it, you want to wave the magic wand and over the summer we’re there. These guys didn’t have the benefit of watching veteran linemen, they got thrown in because they were better than what we had.
"They were in survival mode for five games, we were just trying to patch things to get through the game, Bray got hit 6,000 times -- 6,000, I think, was the count, maybe it was 6,005 -- but he got annihilated in the pocket. We were completing balls down the field and we didn’t even notice it. When you notice it is when you’re not completing balls and the quarterbacks is getting splattered. I promise you they’re playing a lot better than they were last year."
ODDS AND ENDS
Some other injury tidbits from Thursday:
-- defensive ends Ben Martin and Marlon Walls did not practice. It was the second consecutive day Martin sat out.
-- freshman tailback Marlin Lane wore a red non-contact jersey.
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 ...