October 8, 2012
Line's drive lends offense confidence
Junior right tackle Ja'Wuan James said he had never thought about it, but admitted it felt good that his quarterback Tyler Bray told the offensive coaches in the second half against Georgia to keep running the ball.
"That was a good feeling," James said. "Tyler came to the sideline and said he was telling coach (Jim) Chaney to keep running the ball because we were doing a good job. It just gave us more confidence to go out there and do it."
As Tennessee looks for its first SEC win of the season, confidence will be key as the Vols (3-2, 0-2) take on unbeaten Mississippi State, which has plenty of swagger. Bray's message to his coaches was good for the offensive line, but it's the actual play-calls that has the o-line's attention.
"We are happy that coach Chaney feels comfortable calling runs so that we are able to run more than twice a drive," James said. "It feels good knowing we can run the ball."
For James specifically, his confidence is higher than it's ever been and it should be according to his head coach.
"He probably played his best game last week," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "It's only a matter of time. What he has to do is to start stacking that kind of play on top of each other week after week. He obviously has a lot of potential. His decision to play with more physicality and consistency is up to him. When he does it he's a good football player.
"A little more strain. A little more focus on the details of that position. It's hard to mentally strain for 85 snaps. It's hard to do. He is working his way into that kind of stamina."
James agrees his last outing was his best to date, but he made it clear on Monday that by no means has he arrived as a player.
"I feel like I have improved more on the run game, but I need to improve more," James said. "I feel like I'm pass setting well. I feel like I need to improve my individual drive blocking some more."
James and his offensive linemates are hoping to get plenty of chances Saturday night against a Mississippi State team giving up just 126 yards a game on the ground.
"They are more line up and say 'Here we are,'" James said. "'Our guys are better than yours.' That's how it's going to be. I like that kind of game."
YOUTH TO BE SERVED?
On the depth chart, freshman LaDarrell McNeil is listed second team. On the practice field, the freshman from Dallas has been getting a lot of first team work. At his weekly press conference on Monday, Dooley said fans should expect to see a lot from the young safety.
"He's going to play a lot," Dooley said. "There's a good chance he's going to start. We'll see. We'll see how he does this week. He's a good football player and he's just got to get in there. He closes to the ball better than any of them back there so he's going to have plenty of opportunities to prove he can or can't do it."
McNeil has quickly earned the respect of his teammates. He has been logging extra hours in the film room and has been visiting a lot individually with safeties coach Josh Conklin.
"He's really mature," fellow safety Byron Moore said. "He's always studying the playbook. He's watching extra film and he's just a ball hawk. He's always around the ball. He's flying around back there and anytime you get someone flying around the football the way he does, then you have to have him on the field."
Added Prentiss Waggner, "I think LaDarrell will be ready. One thing he is going to do is play full speed. We just have to help him out to make sure he knows what to do every play."
The task of helping McNeil will fall on the shoulders of Moore who said he has to help him play full speed.
"Just make sure he knows what he's doing on the opposite and to make sure he is communicating to the other corner what to do and let him play fast," Moore said. "LaDarrell is an instinctive guy. You don't want to put too much on him. You just want him to go play fast."
STANDOUT PERFORMANCE FROM O-LINE AGAINST UGA
Derek Dooley gave his offensive line more credit on Monday, saying their performance against Georgia two Saturdays ago was likely the best an offensive line unit has had since he's been at Tennessee.
"I think that's fair to say, against a quality opponent. They were really consistent in their play and you look at the sacks and the negative yardage plays they really didn't exist," Dooley said.
The third-year head coach credited numerous factors to the improvement of the Vols' offensive line.
"I think it's everything. With experience is the physical maturity, the emotional maturity, all the things I talked about a year ago we weren't right there on. Physically, we're able to maintain that hitting for 85 snaps. We're not breaking as the game goes," Dooley said. "Emotionally, we're able to maintain our focus and discipline through 85 snaps because it's really easy to go out there - it's like when you get in a fight ad you're swinging early and you're hitting but as the hits keep coming your hands start dropping and guys have been training and they are physically mature they have a better ability to sustain it."
Offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James said the key to continuing the success is consistency.
"We've just got to be consistent and keep working like we do every day and we've got to try and get better every day and not let this get to us," James offered.
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