ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. -- Tennessee's offensive line is taking the most basic approach possible in attempting to fix the rushing game.
Beat the guy you're supposed to block. Coaches and players call it "playing physical." The offseason-long emphasis appears to paying off in practice.
"We have a long way to go," Volunteers offensive line coach Sam Pittman said after Tuesday afternoon's practice at Milligan College, "but we're playing physical. We're doing that. We're coming off the football, and we've been pleased so far."
In Saturday's scrimmage, Tennessee ran the football "very efficiently," head coach Derek Dooley said. That came against both the first- and second-team defenses, though some of the bigger plays came against the backups.
In assessing closed scrimmages, players' and coaches' words can be more valuable than what's on the stat sheet. And the mystery goes beyond which defense was on the field.
"I think so many statistics in training camp can be so misleading," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "I think we have our moments where a play looks clean and we block it, and the next time we don't block it well and they make a mistake and the stats might look good. I think that we're doing better.
"We're trying to be more physical with the ball, and we're securing the ball, so I'm happy with where we're at right now. Are we the greatest running team in football history? No, but I think we're an improved football team running the ball from the previous season."
Pittman was at North Carolina then, and the Vols' offensive line embraced the fresh slate he brought with him in the spring. Tennessee has better depth on the line, but the unit must make a big improvement after 2011's woes.
"We're harping on trying to play fast," Pittman said. "With fast feet, you're going to have more power. We're trying to speed up everything so we can be more powerful.
"I don't think you can coach everybody the same. You have to coach some guys different because their athletic ability allows them to be coached a little bit different, but I think I know what our guys need. I think I feel like I know how to coach them to get that success out of them."
Defensive end Darrington Sentimore continues to draw attention with his play. Tuesday, defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri was the latest to heap praise on the junior college transfer, singling him out before any other defender.
A former Alabama lineman, Sentimore arrived at UT for spring practice in poor shape. He's made that time a distant memory with his activity two weeks into August.
"The guy that's really come in here and done a fantastic job is Sentimore," Sunseri said. "He's in better shape. He's being very, very reckless with his body.
"I'm extremely proud of him the way that he's been practicing, kind of setting the tone for the defense."
It was difficult not to notice the smile on Chaney's face as he met with the media for the second time in camp. He could point only to the development of younger players for offensive depth as a concern and even admitted he's now in a "pretty good frame of mind." It helps he's getting along with Tyler Bray, his third-year quarterback.
"He's making better and better decisions [and] I'm comfortable with that," Chaney said. "He and I are getting along fantastic. He and I haven't been yelling at one another much lately.
"Expectations are through the roof with that young man. I think he's a wonderful football player, and any time he comes out and underachieves, he should feel bad about that. Thus far he's been pretty conscious of that."
Tailback Tom Smith and tight end Joseph Ayres were working on the side during the open period of Tuesday's workout. ... Sunseri said Corey Miller, who was away from the team during the spring for academic reasons, has shown he's a "pretty good pass-rusher." ... Cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley noted the ability, speed and explosive power of freshmen Deion Bonner and Daniel Gray. "Now it's all about getting them reps," he continued. "It's not about right now; it's worrying about the process of getting the result that you want. We're just trying to work on getting Tennessee better, and those guys have bought into that." ... Pittman said Alex Bullard is working on the right side of the line as the Vols try to develop depth there.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
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 ...