By Jimmy Hyams
You had to feel a bit sorry for Marcus Tatum.
Tennessee’s senior offensive lineman spoke to the media Wednesday about the struggles along the offensive line, and the beast of a burden the linemen have felt.
Tatum said the offensive line has been targeted for much of Tennessee’s woes the past two years, the two consecutive losing seasons, the 2-14 SEC mark, three losses in a row to Vanderbilt.
You name it, it seems to be the offensive line’s fault.
“I’m just tired of losing,’’ said Tatum, who has added about 70 pounds to his frame since arriving at Tennessee and weighs 321..
“It’s really embarrassing to go out there and have everybody blame it on us. It usually is our fault, most of the time.
“I just want to make a difference. I don’t want to be that whole excuse of why we are losing and why this University is falling apart.’’
Tatum was asked if the feeling of angst and anger have filtered down to the freshmen.
“Yes, because they have seen it in their recruiting process and watching it on TV,’’ Tatum said. “They can inherit it too, just because they (fans and media) said we were bad. It’s an offensive line that is bad as a whole. So we are all included under one thing.’’
Truth is, Tennessee has had one of the SEC’s worst offensive lines the past two years.
Statistics support it.
Last season, Tennessee was last in the SEC in rushing yards per game (129.1) and average yards per rush (3.7), and 13th in rushing touchdowns (15).
It was sixth in sacks allowed but who-knows-where in hits allowed on the quarterback.
In 2017, the numbers weren’t much better.
UT was 13th in rushing yards per game (117.4) and last in rush yards per attempt (3.4) while tying for last in rushing touchdowns (14).
Tatum said Tennessee’s two five-star freshmen offensive tackles, Wanya Morris (313 pounds) and Darnell Wright (330 pounds), are much better at this stage than he was as a first-year college player.
“I was playing against (Alabama star) Jonathan Allen at like 250 pounds,’’ Tatum said of his freshman debut. “So they are way further ahead in their development.’’
Tennessee second-year offensive line coach Will Friend said his unit must pick it up considerably.
“I think they feel like they’ve had a big part (in UT not winning lately),’’ Friend said.
While Friend said the O-line isn’t the only reason for UT’s failures, he said, “I know they feel like they’ve been a big part of that. And I think they’re eager to try to prove (they’ve improved).’’
Friend said his unit needs to make “major’’ improvements: “I think they sense that.’’
Friend said he sees a different mentality from the offensive line.
“I think we’re older, we’re stronger, more mature,’’ said Friend, who admitted he had to massage the line’s confidence at times last year. “I think you’ve seen a lot of progress from some of those guys as they’ve grown in the program and getting older. And we’ve got some new guys that have added some depth.’’
Friend has been encouraged at practice when, at times, the offensive line has pushed back the defensive line.
Asked about his confidence level, Tatum said: “I’m always confident in everyone around me. It’s just time to show it.’’
Tatum said the line has the mindset of improving.
“We are focused on just getting better as a unit,’’ Tatum said. “But in the back of our heads, you know, if you get tired, don’t forget that people still think that we’re terrible. It’s just time to build.’’