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March 16, 2013Don Mahoney arguably has more to work with than any other Tennessee assistant coach.
More talent. More experience. More depth. More leadership.
But none of that means Tennessee's offensive line is anywhere near where it needs to be after Tennessee wrapped up its third practice of spring camp and first full-pad workout Thursday morning.
"We've got a lot of work to do still," Mahoney, the Vols' first-year offensive line coach, said. "The thing about offensive line, it's a task where once the pads come on, it's been a long time since we've been in them. From the time the season ended to now, there's a lot of things."
It's been a work in progress, like much of the roster, since Butch Jones took over in December, bringing Mahoney with him from previous stops at Cincinnati and Central Michigan.
"The position is never-ending in terms of constant improvement," Mahoney said, "maybe pad level, maybe fundamentals, maybe footwork."
But Mahoney didn't hesitate to name what his line needs to work on the most, at least after three workouts.
"More violence," Mahoney said. "We're not nearly as violent as we need to be. When you mention about the conditioning part of it, anytime you put the pads on it's a whole new deal for both sides of the ball.
" ... I want to hear the practice, we want to hear the practice. And I think that's the one thing that needs to improve. And I think the players will learn that as spring ball ends, the shape we expect them to be in and play has got to be higher."
Better shape has been a hot topic for Mahoney's front five since Butch Jones lauded his veteran offensive linemen for shedding bad weight over the winter months, working in strength coach Dave Lawson's program.
"The better conditioned, the more physical you are," Mahoney said. "That's the end result we want. Physicality."
Mahoney admitted Thursday that the weight problem was enough of a concern at first that he didn't think his linemen would make it through Tennessee's "standards," the Vols' offseason conditioning program.
"I said, 'Some of these guys aren't going to make it through because they're too heavy, it's really going to have a toll on them,'" Mahoney shared.
"They made it through that. I said, 'Guys, you really understand that you can't carry that much weight, you don't need to carry that much weight.'"
But just how much weight was bad weight?
"We had a guy that weighed 362, he's down to 340," Mahoney said. "Ja'Wuan James was 337, he's down to 317. That's weight that, you don't have to win with 337 - whether it's our offense, whether it's whatever offense - to be functional, powerful and violent. And you can be that.
"I just looked at it from a standpoint of our relationship with Coach Lawson in years past, six years, and trusting him with, 'Hey, you know what, he can afford to lose a little bit.'"
Whether it was Central Michigan in 2007, Cincinnati in 2010 or now Tennessee in 2013, Mahoney is no stranger to a rebuilding project alongside Jones and Lawson.
But the shelves are stocked a little better this time around, returning four of five starters from one of the Southeastern Conference's best offensive lines in 2012 - even if they were perhaps carrying 20 pounds of bad weight per man.
"I would say we're a little bit ahead," Mahoney said the progress of his experienced group. "At least from the standpoint of up front, there's a group of guys that have played quite a bit of ball, that their understanding of the game is further ahead than I've been used to.
"However, there's still the thing ... about the fine details -- stances, pad level, landmarks, hands, all those types of things that need to be better.
"But right now, for Day 3, I like the approach the kids have taken, and we've just got to keep building on it."