Sep 6, 2013
By: Brian Rice
James Stone has a great appreciation for the position that he and his fellow offensive linemen have been placed in this season. Rarely is the focus and attention on an offensive line entering a season.
The Vols return four of five starters on the offensive line, a unit that allowed just eight sacks in 2012. With a new quarterback under center and a young receiving corps, the line will be called on to replicate that protection in 2013.
Despite the experience, Stone is a little surprised that his until has drawn the attention and expectations that they have.
"We are kind of surprised because we've had some success as a group, but the team and the seasons haven't been going as we had hoped," Stone said. "It just kind of gives you something to work for and something you can use for motivation."
Stone has started 27 games in his three seasons heading into 2013, including eight starting nods as a freshman in 2010. A season ago, he started all twelve games for Tennessee at center, helping the Vols to five games with 500-plus yards of total offense, including a school-record 718 yards vs. Troy on Nov. 3.
Even with the experience returning up front for Tennessee, Stone said that helping develop depth on the line has been a focus and a source of pride for him in the preseason.
"We want it to be where we don't have to say anything," he said of providing leadership to the younger players working in with the starting unit. "It's good to see guys respond and see guys put the pressure on the younger guys who may not get reps on Saturdays. They need to know they have to work at practice to get reps on game day."
Part of that pressure comes from Butch Jones and the coaching staff. For a senior, adjusting to another new system could be difficult. After all, offensive line coach Don Mahoney is the third position coach Stone has worked with in four seasons at UT.
But Stone said buying into the system that Jones and his staff brought in was the most important thing he did in the offseason and that any hiccups along the way wouldn't stand in the way of developing long-term success.
"That's when you have to just focus on the process," Stone said of setbacks on the playing field. "Coach Jones and the staff - they lay out the proven process on how you go about becoming a winning football team. You have to take it day by day and get better each minute and focus on the process. You can't really worry about last season. Just focus on the process of what develops winning teams. If you do it every day, you're going to get better every day."