It’s that standstill moment when all things are possible. It could be the greatest play in the history of the program, or it could be a 10-yard penalty. In all other periods of the game, eyes are everywhere from one sideline to the other, from one player to the next. But in that moment, all eyes are locked in on the line of scrimmage. And for Jarrod Shaw, the key is discipline.
Tennessee’s soft-spoken senior offensive lineman hears it in practice from offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, and he tries to live it on and off the field.
“That’s what Coach Hiestand focuses on with us, to have a lot of discipline,” Shaw said. “We have a lot of inexperienced guys, but we get our experience out here on the practice field because we’re
going against a hard-nosed defensive line. So we just try to go through things one play at a time, clear our mind after each play, and prove ourselves.”
The Vols’ offensive line is making a job of trying to prove itself. All five starters are gone from last year’s line. And the returnees are young. Well, with the exception of Shaw.
UT’s only senior offensive lineman has had a variety of experiences in Knoxville. He redshirted and fought for playing time in his first three years. As a junior, he earned considerable experience in
the trenches and started three games early in the season. Still, he was shifted around from guard to tackle and back just to help fill the gaps.
Now, he’s settled in at guard. And he’s clutching the starter’s role.
“Coming into my senior year, I knew I was going to be the only senior on the line,” Shaw said. “I just took that upon my shoulders. Then Coach Hiestand challenged me back in the spring just to try to get all the guys on the line to rally. Especially if things don’t go our way, or if we have a bad day, just try to get things back on track, get them focused, and go on to the next play.”
Shaw’s prime goal was to unify the linemen over the summer. Players are in different stages of their careers, to put it simply. The first team on the depth chart reads like this: sophomore, redshirt freshman, junior, senior (Shaw), true freshman. It’s not the easiest collection of backgrounds and personalities to mesh, yet things got on the same page.
By the time fall camp began, there was no question about the line’s role: set the pace for the team.
“Every day, we just try to set the tempo for practice,” Shaw said. “That falls on our back. As we go, the defense goes and the offense makes plays.
“It’s a big unity deal for us. We’re close off the field, all the guys. It’s not just the starters. So when we get into that meeting room, we’re focused and we challenge each other on what we’re going to work on that day. It’s every day that we try to get better.”
That’s good news to Tennessee fans. Prior to the season, questions swirled around the offensive line about how it could block, how pass protection would be, how disciplined it would be. Shaw’s men heard the questions, but they kept moving forward. And part of that is due to his leadership.
“There was a lot of doubt toward us coming into the season, but we don’t pay attention to any of that,” Shaw said. “We just want to come out and prove ourselves.”