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IN THE TRENCHES: Why Tennessee's offensive line is going to be just fine

By: Dallas Bowlin

Senior Staff Writer, Junior Editor, Content Manager, Co-Host

The All Vol Call in Show


Photo | All For Tennessee

Obviously, Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, and Cedric Tillman were significant aspects of Tennessee's success last season, but the importance of the offensive line's play cannot be overstated. Hooker did throw five touchdown passes to Jalin Hyatt, but it was the offensive line that allowed Hooker to do so. Darnell Wright, a top-ten pick in the NFL Draft, and Jerome Carvin were two extremely prominent linemen who are both gone, leaving the Vols with two major gaps to fill. Tennessee has the talent to fill those gaps, but they are clearly short on depth beyond that. Is this something to be concerned about? We’ll get back to this later.

In Josh Heupel's fast-paced spread offense, the offensive line only needs to block for what feels like a fraction of a second. The ball is snapped, usually immediately out of the quarterback's hands. In contrast to Mike Leach's air raid style, Heupel's spread offense is highly reliant on the run game. The offensive line must take a step toward the play side and descend to block the first defender that enters that zone.

However, similar to Leach's offense, when it's a pass play, the running back is vital in pass blocking, which relieves some of the strain on the offensive line. In pass protection, regardless of the personnel on the field, all linemen must operate together. One of the best attributes of the spread is that the formation limits the number of defensive fronts by forcing linebackers to cover receivers, which really simplifies pass blocking.

The use of play-action is another important tool for Tennessee's offensive line. Faux hand offs provide the defense with a reason to call off a blitz; after all, why rush a passer who isn't in possession of the ball? Doing so exposes you to long-term gains in the run game.

To be clear, I am not implying that Tennessee does not have offensive line talent. They certainly do. And the myth that the spread system does not require talented offensive linemen is untrue.

However, the spread simplifies things and alleviates a lot of tension from the pass protectors and run blockers. Should Tennessee be concerned about a possible shortage of offensive linemen? The short answer is no.


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