August 10, 2010
Line's drive sets early tone
Tennessee's offensive line knew what was coming Tuesday, even if its defensive counterparts did not know what had hit them.
So when Tauren Poole uncorked yet another long-distance dash in a game-like setting in Neyland Stadium, the offense and particularly the line knew the message had been sent.
So, too, did the Vols' defense and coaching staff at that point.
"The first play Poole takes one about 49 yards on a power and that set the tone right there," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "The offense did a great job of keeping the pressure on; running the ball, using play-action, making some big third-down plays."
According to stats compiled by UT's Sports Information Department, the Vols registered 20 runs for 127 yards by their top four ball-carriers. Center Cody Pope knew the group wanted to establish ground supremacy early -- especially against Justin Wilcox's defensive unit.
"It definitely felt good," said Pope, who got the opening nod at center. "We knew what the play was. We had an idea of what they were going to bring defensively. Coach Wilcox, he's always going to bring something it seems like. It definitely felt good to start out. We just need to finish better I feel."
"I could see the glow in their eyes. They were happy and confident about making big plays on the field. As long as we can keep that confidence we will be fine." - Tauren Poole
The defense needed to start better, according to both Dooley and senior end Chris Walker, who praised the offensive line's work but also lamented his group's lack of immediate readiness.
"Like coach Dooley said, we came out a little slow. Actually, really slow," Walker said. "I think it just takes us a bit to warm up but I think guys need to understand the tempo and intensity that needs to be in the stadium when we come in. I just think that I'm glad we're getting it out of the way right now and not coming into our first game flat. ...
"The O-line did a great job blocking it. We're going to have to come out and be ready to play."
Though Poole needed just two carries to amass 62 yards and a touchdown, he made it a point to reinforce the work of an offensive line that he said approached the scrimmage with great intensity.
"I just keep trying to encourage them. When we broke that 60-yard run, I just came back to the huddle and told them all good job," Poole said. "I told them they were working hard and to just keep it up and be consistent.
"I could see the glow in their eyes. They were happy and confident about making big plays on the field. As long as we can keep that confidence we will be fine."
Confidence, as well as competition has been key for the group this camp. While the five starters up front -- Pope, Jarrod Shaw and JerQuari Schofield at guards; Dallas Thomas and Ja'Wuan James at tackles -- were essentially the same, no player has an automatic starting slot.
"It's helping us a lot," said Shaw, the only player up front to have started a collegiate game. "There is competition, and nothing is guaranteed of course. So we're motivated by each other. We're motivated to outwork the defense every day."
Added Pope, "Every day, every day is a challenge. I don't feel like I have a secure spot. I feel like I have to get better, and if I don't, somebody's going to pass me."
Teammates on both sides of the ball passed around a vote of confidence for the untested unit following the team's first major intrasquad battle of pre-season camp.
"They're really good. I felt like they did a great job today," linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "They gave Tauren room, they protected Matt Simms really well, Tyler, all those guys. I've been encouraged by what the offensive line has done. I think that's a good unit with a good future."
Quarterback Matt Simms praised the group up front - not only for its effectiveness early but for allowing the offense to ratchet up expectations across the board as a result.
"Definitely, we hit a big play on the first play and that sent us on the right path. Once we get clicking we are pretty tough to stop," said Simms, who did not commit a turnover. "We did a good job of getting our momentum started early and going from there.
"With a good start like we had today, it's kind of easy to demand more of yourself because a lot of other guys are making big plays and you want to be a part of it making big plays as well. It's a good thing and it was a good start today."
While Dooley expected the film to temper some of the immediate offensive glow after the scrimmage, Tennessee's first-year coach admitted he prized the ability to run the football as a foundation for the team.
"The running game was good. I am going to tell you right now. We have to be a good running team," he said. "I don't care how talented of a team you are. You have to be able to run the ball."
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