Sept. 29, 2009
BY JOSH PATE
Tennessee shuffled its offensive line on Saturday due to some sickness and injury, moving Shaw from right tackle to the left guard position. It was his first time playing the new part this season, picking up slack for injured Vladimir Richard and Jacques McClendon, who was ill. It all paid dividends for tailback Hardesty, who rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown as the Vols kept the ball on the ground for most of the second half in the victory.
That, too, is fine for Shaw. The 6-foot-4, 332-pound junior from Louisiana is pretty laid back for a big guy. That is, until he has to block somebody. Shaw has sculpted this season into a breakout year that is hands-down his top rung on the career ladder to date. After redshirting in 2006, he was on the squad team in 2007. Last year, he saw action in just two games as a backup.
Things have changed this year. And as Saturday proved, he's happily able to adjust.
First Down: It's the little things ...
Playing tackle is different than playing guard. It's not night-day different like quarterback-to-kicker. But it's different.
Shaw tops the depth chart at right tackle for the Vols, who are drenched in experience on the offensive line. Problem is that experience is getting banged up as UT heads through the heart of its schedule. So head coach Lane Kiffin and staff ordered some rearranging to accommodate, including flipping sides for Shaw.
"It's an adjustment as far as moving from the right side to the left side," Shaw said of blocking quarterback Jonathan Crompton's blind side. "There are always technique issues that come with that. But as far as knowledge and play calling and knowing what to do with my assignments, I've got that all down pat."
The biggest difference? Size and speed. Faster defenders tend to be on the outside, but the middle is packed with the big old uglies.
"Guard and tackle are two different positions as far as technique and what you have to do because you're going against bigger guys. That's the biggest adjustment I had to go through," Shaw said.
Second Down: It's a lifestyle ...
Asking players to change positions is never a hit. But at offensive line, where the blue-collar mentality takes over, it's part of the job description in times like these.
It also sort of goes with the territory. The trenches often provide those mistake-only replays: When a lineman makes a good block, the replay is rarely stopped; but when a lineman makes a mistake, it typically results in a penalty flag or loss of yards.
Shaw said it's all about knowing the task, and carrying it all out.
"Our specific plan is be aggressive and help run the ball by creating holes for our running backs and protect our quarterback so he can make big plays for our offense," he said. "A lot of people overlook us because we don't go out there and score touchdowns. But we're a big part in the offense."
Third Down: What a rush ...
The O-line is actually a huge part of the offense.
A circle could have been placed on the offensive line for Tennessee heading into Kiffin's first year as head coach. The Vols had power in the backfield, but could the blockers open the holes to produce a solid ground game? Those questions have been answered through four games this year.
Hardesty has handled the load for the Vols and leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing. He has 485 yards on 84 carries for a 121.3 average. That's good enough for seventh in the nation. Behind him is freshman Bryce Brown, who averages 53.8 yards per game.
"We take a lot of pride in it," Shaw said of the offensive line's blocking. "Montario is a great player. He's always congratulating us about how we do in a game by opening holes for us. He's always reminding us that without us he wouldn't be where he's at as the leading rusher in the SEC."
But he's not offered to buy the O-line any meals ... yet.
"I ain't going to bring it up to him, but if he wants to take me out to eat, he can," Shaw said.
Fourth Down: Having his cake ...
Shaw's a big guy. At 332 pounds, he's the biggest starter on Tennessee's offensive line. So if Hardesty did plan on taking him out for a thank-you meal, he better pack the wallet.
Or so one would think.
"Usually for breakfast, I keep it simple," Shaw said. "Maybe a shake or a bar or something before I come in and work out. For lunch, I eat whatever they have in Gibbs. If they don't have anything good, I usually have a sandwich or some pasta. I like pasta a lot."
It's those trips home, back to Louisiana, that really get Shaw's taste buds going. Shrimp? Gumbo? Nope.
Even for a home-cooked meal, Shaw keeps it simple.
"My favorite meal ... my mom made red beans and rice," Shaw said. "You know I'm from Louisiana, so I like red beans and rice a lot. That's my favorite meal. It's spicy, but it's good."