It seems we've been lamenting the demise of the traditional Tennessee running game for years. SMQ observed last year, and again this year, that the Vols appear to have slowly abandoned the running game over the seasons and gotten soft in the process. I theorized that Jimmy Ray Stephens was mostly to blame for the cloud of dust having gone up in smoke. Every year we wonder. Have we recovered? Have we rediscovered ourselves? Can we please, for all that is Good and Orange, open up some holes and run it down their throats?
Perhaps this is the year. The stars appear to be aligning for a return to the days when Tennessee could almost run at will against an opponent. Consider:
1. The Incredible Flipping O-Line. The o-line has been slowed a bit by "the new language of the offense and a little bit of the flipping sides." For those of you who may have been hibernating for the summer, that "flipping" thing is a reference to new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson's retro-innovation of switching out the o-line's guards and tackles depending on the circumstances. Think of the right guard as either a "weak-side" or "strong-side" guard now, as he's going to position himself on either side of the center depending on the play called. The goal is to create mismatches along the line much the same as some plays are designed to create mismatches between skill players and defenders.
That quote above makes it seem like it's not the easiest concept for the players to grab hold of at full speed, at least initially. I'm sure our experienced line will get it eventually, though, and once they do, here's to hoping that The Incredible Flipping O-Line will be even more confusing to defenses and that they won't get their bearings before our game with them is over and in the win column.
2. Josh McNeil, now with extra poundage! McNeil's gained 25 pounds of "good" weight. Of course, he didn't play in the spring, so he's got some catching up to do, but he's solid, smart, and nasty, which is everything you want in an SEC center. He was good before, and now they've gone and rolled out the new and improved version.
3. Miffed. The players are being diplomatic (mostly), but it's apparent that they were not happy last year every time the prior offensive coaching staff called a pass play on third and short. Insulting, say they, and I agree. Let them be angry, and let them deliver hits and make holes rather than just positioning themselves between a defender and the QB. They'll be happier. We'll be happier. Defenders . . . well, won't.
4. Nasty under center, too. Speaking of QBs, our new one has a middle-linebacker mentality. Gone, for now, are the days of counting to three and throwing the ball into the river except when really necessary. Crompton will tuck it, run it, and hit somebody, and there's nothing like that to get the entire team's blood racing. I imagine huddle exchanges will be much different with somebody like that than with Erik Ainge, who, for all of his excellent qualities, obviously viewed getting hit as the Nightmare Scenario. A tough QB will make an already tough o-line even tougher. Plus, even though Crompton's tough, he's new, and you know what that means: more running plays.
5. The train's a'comin. Arian Foster is a very, very good senior running back, and he'll be running behind a bona fide, devoted-to-blocking fullback behind the experienced offensive line. The void created by Corey Anderson has been filled. Foster looked much better last year once we began to utilize Chris Brown as more of a blocker than receiver. Expect mo better of that this year.