KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s offense is ready to change with the times when it comes to playing a deeper rotation on the offensive line to keep players fresh and combat defensive line substitutions.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, the architect of Michigan’s 1997 national championship offense and several successful others, said he’s seen enough to change his philosophy.
DeBord said before the season he was a believer in only using five offensive lineman for the sake of continuity.
“I’m really changing my mind about five guys, but I think what happened was, we moved guys around and guys played well,” DeBord said, referencing how UT uses six different players in three different offensive line combinations in the 45-24 win over Virginia Tech. “When it doesn’t take away from their play, it’s building depth.”
Indeed, continuity is one thing, but getting overwhelmed by waves of different defensive line combinations is another.
Alabama used 11 different defensive linemen in games last season, and DeBord said he anticipates Saturday’s noon opponent, Ohio (TV: SEC Network), will use eight to 10 defensive linemen.
“So you’re getting teams doing that, so it’s like why not?” said DeBord, who works alongside offensive line coach Don Mahoney in practices. “So as long as guys will play to the level that we expect, then why not?
“And, it keeps guys fresh and keeps them in the game and builds the depth through the season.”
DeBord pointed out that Tennessee was forced to rely on two freshmen offensive linemen in last season’s 38-31 triumph over the Bulldogs.
“A lot of it was because those guys had some experience playing earlier in the season,” DeBord said. “But we have to keep moving guys around to move through this season, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Indeed, the Vols lost starting right tackle Chance Hall to a knee injury in fall drills. Hall, a freshman All-American last season, underwent knee surgery on Aug. 18 and is not expected to return until next week’s game against Florida, at the very earliest.
Sophomore Jack Jones played his first football of the season against Virginia Tech, entering the game in the second quarter and seeming to jump start the offense.
Jones will continue to play this week, and DeBord said there’s some consideration being given to add a seventh player to the offensive line rotation, though he would not specify whom that might be.
DeBord also said that he saw a great deal of improvement from center Coleman Thomas, who also saw repetitions at tackle against the Hokies.
Virginia Tech held the Vols offense to one first down last Saturday by coming out in a zone pass defense, after DeBord had anticipated it would play man-to-man.
Tennessee adjusted by calling more plays from the sideline for Dobbs, who went on to account for five touchdowns.
The Vols rank 111th in the nation in total offense through its first two games.