Freshman guard Jacques McClendon spent the entire regular season hearing the Vols' offensive coaches say he was good enough to start and should be playing more. But he never got to start and he rarely got to play more. Now he will.
With first-team right guard Anthony Parker sidelined by injury, McClendon worked with the first unit earlier today when the Vols opened preparation for their Jan. 1 Outback Bowl date against Penn State.
“It's a great feeling to be able to work for the starting job,” the 6-4, 325-pound Chattanooga native said. “But it's not given to me. I've still got to work this next month because we've got a lot of great guards. But, as of right now, I'm working with the ones.”
Asked how McClendon responded to the promotion, head coach Phillip Fulmer replied: “Real well. Jacques has practiced an awful lot for us and has gotten a chance to play some during the course of the year.
“We actually thought several games ago that he was going to be the starter because Anthony had some nicks. Now Anthony's out, and I don't see any drop-off. Now and then you'll see a youthful mistake show up but he's very conscientious and, physically, he's as good as anybody up there (in the No. 1 line).”
McClendon said he felt no added pressure in practice, despite his elevation to first-team status.
“No,” he said. “Practice went pretty smooth today. We did a lot of basic stuff, worked like normal.”
McClendon was aware that UT coaches were praising him to the media during the regular season. They suggested on several occasions that he was pushing for Parker's starting job. McClendon relished the flattery but never let it go to his head.
“It was good to hear those things from Coach Fulmer, just to know you had a chance,” the imposing rookie said. “He kept my work ethic going and kept me working.”
In addition to the comments Fulmer and line coach Greg Adkins made to the media, they routinely praised McClendon to his face. That provided extra motivation for him.
“The coaches were telling me I was ready all year, so I just kept listening to them and working hard,” he said. “That's all I can do – keep working and, when my opportunity comes, take advantage of it.”
Linebacker Jerod Mayo, who missed the regular-season finale against Kentucky with a minor knee injury, has made steady progress and is expected to play against Penn State.