Tennessee offensive line still trying build unity, consistency

Tennessee offensive line still trying build unity, consistency

Drew Richmond: Vols searching for 'ultimate confidence'

October 9th, 2018 by David Cobb in Sports - College

Tennessee offensive lineman Drew Richmond (51) and his teammates heard a familiar message from first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt after last Saturday's loss at South Carolina.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

This story was updated Oct. 9, 2018, at 5:59 p.m. with more information.

KNOXVILLE — Jeremy Pruitt rattled off a couple of points of rationale Monday to explain the substandard play of Tennessee's offensive line this season.

Guys are playing new positions, and they are playing together for the first time, he noted.

Then the Volunteers' first-year coach offered another fact.

"Five weeks now, they've been together," he said.

The Vols (2-3, 0-2 SEC) project to start the same five players on the line for a fifth consecutive game Saturday at noon EDT when they play No. 21 Auburn (4-2, 1-2) at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Five weeks is not enough time to develop an elite unit, but it's nearly half of a season. Where Tennessee goes in the season's second half may be determined by how far the offensive line can take it.

"I feel like we're there," redshirt junior right tackle Drew Richmond said Tuesday. "That's the hardest part. Things just kind of being new, we don't have the ultimate confidence. That's what we're working towards."

Ultimate confidence can be hard to find in an 11-game conference losing streak, but Richmond thinks the offensive line is on the cusp of establishing the edge that was missing at key times early in its first two SEC games.

Poor line push hampered Tennessee on a pair of third-and-1 failures in the first quarter that proved deflating in a loss to Georgia two Saturdays ago. An unblocked pass rusher and a 15-yard penalty on left tackle Trey Smith sabotaged the Vols' first two drives in a loss to Florida three weeks ago.

"We just can't have little busts at important times of the game," Richmond said.

Similarly shoddy offensive line miscues hurt Tennessee early in a season-opening loss to West Virginia.

"Against West Virginia, I had some busts," Richmond said. "I can't do that. You just can't have that. Everybody has to do their job 100 percent of the time for us to be successful. When one guy don't do that, we don't look as good as we are. That's what I feel like we need to get better at."

Richmond's self-reflection encompassed the overall message from Pruitt about a team that has lost by 26 points in each of its games against power conference opponents this season.

"That's one thing Coach Pruitt always talks about that I genuinely understand is that Tennessee can't beat Tennessee," Richmond said. "He always asks us, 'Did we do something? Or was it the other team?'"

Richmond said that every time the Vols examine that question, the blame falls on themselves.

"It's us," he said.

"To me, the big thing is that you've got to get the guys to play hard," Pruitt said. "You've got to get them to know what to do. You've got to get them to play with the right technique, the right body angles and learn to finish, and you just have to do what they know. Don't ask them to do things they can't do."

Auburn's veteran defensive front may be the toughest challenge yet for Tennessee's offensive line, although Mississippi State gashed the Tigers last week behind the running of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.

Tennessee, with a less mobile quarterback and an offensive line that is still establishing itself, will have to chart its own path if it wishes to take down Auburn.

"We're hungry," Richmond said. "We want to win. Bad. It's just crazy how much we go through, what we go through, what we do on a daily basis to seem like we're falling short. I guess that's the thing about life is your resiliency. How are you going to come back? I don't think we've got a team full of quitters. I just don't think that. It's just every weekend is an opportunity for us to show, I feel like, how good we are."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.