KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee hired Mike DeBord as offensive coordinator leading into the 2015 season and the Vols most prolific rushing attack since 1989 ensued.
Tennessee averaged 223.5 yards rushing per game last season, the most since 1989, when Johnny Majors was head coach, Phillip Fulmer was offensive coordinato,r and Chuck Webb, Reggie Cobb and Tony Thompson shared carries with Andy Kelly and Sterling Hinton as the quarterbacks.
“Coach DeBord brings a toughness, a mentality, especially to our front line, our front five,” UT receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “His knowledge of the run game is second to none.
“But overall it’s just an old-school mentality of how to run the football down someone’s throat when it’s time.”
DeBord spends a great deal of time at practice working beside UT assistant Don Mahoney, an 18-year veteran of the offensive line coaching ranks.
Mahoney said the Vols planned to use Saturday’s closed scrimmage as a tool to get them closer to settling their starting five and offensive line rotation this week.
Tennessee would “ideally” like to have seven players ready to play in the rotation by the time Appalachian State comes to Neyland Stadium for both teams’ season opener on Sept. 1.
“We want to see the physicality and style of play that we believe in and demand and expect,” said Mahoney, who has been with Butch Jones since the UT coach began his head coaching career as Central Michigan’s head coach in 2007.
“(This) week will be honing in on who we can count on and improving on the fundamentals and techniques.”
Mahoney said that “overall, the depth needs to be better” for Tennessee, and that the offensive line is not where it needs to be.
“We’ll work that through that next week but … anyone that’s feeling comfortable right now, that’s not happening” Mahoney said Friday, “and that’s good, that’s what it should be.”
Mahoney said the Vols might have enough veterans in their unit to hit that ideal rotation of seven players — a number that would help offset the 10- and 11-man defensive lines Tennessee will confront this season.
“Those seven are really the starting seven, because at any given moment, that sixth guy is just as important as that fifth guy,” Mahoney said. “Would we be opposed to that (depth and rotation)? No.
“You tend to want to do that more with a more veteran group, because the only thing you run into there is the communication. Guys get locked into the guy they are playing next to.”
Right now, the only player Mahoney seems locked into is left guard Jashon Robertson.
“Jashon has been very very consistent and very solid,” Mahoney said. “I pointed him out, the film doesn’t lie. He’s playing solid, he’s smart. He’s playing at a high level.”
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.