Dave Hooker Audio
Darris Sawtelle knew something was amiss when he first saw his teammates early Wednesday morning.
"You knew something hit the fan," the Tennessee redshirt freshman said Thursday.
Sawtelle hadn't read the News Sentinel that morning but the other Vols had and they weren't pleased.
Coach Phillip Fulmer called UT's second-string offensive linemen "soft". Fulmer's ire was mostly directed at Sawtelle, Cody Pope and Ramon Johnson.
Motivation by media or not, some players were upset. Not Sawtelle.
"I appreciate it actually," he said of such criticism.
As strange as that may seem, remember that Sawtelle is now at least being coached - not just the self-described All-American blocking bag holder he was a year ago. Sawtelle will take all that Fulmer can dish out.
"He may say some mean things that you don't like but you have to take in stride," Sawtelle said. "The only thing you can do is take it as constructive criticism and prove him wrong. I think that's what he wants. To be proven wrong."
Sawtelle said UT's second-string offensive linemen met this week to re-focus on improving as a group, instead of just striving for playing time. The message was received.
Offensive line coach Greg Adkins has seen a positive response.
"They know it's all for the betterment of them and the betterment of the team," Adkins said of the public criticism. "Most of those guys got better from it."
That doesn't mean Adkins is ready to declare his offensive line a finished project. He shares concerns with Fulmer about his second stringers. He's also a bit worried about his starters, who are still learning a new offense.
"I think we're doing a little bit too much thinking instead of just playing the game right now," Adkins said.
As for Fulmer, he's seen some recent improvement with his backups but ultimately declared, "Still soft."
Cottam Fractures Fibula: Tight end Jeff Cottam suffered a right leg fibula fracture during practice. The junior will miss the remainder of spring drills but is expected to make a full recovery by fall.
The projected starter is slated to replace departed seniors Chris Brown and Brad Cottam, Jeff's brother.
Major Matchup: UT and Ohio State have agreed to a two-year series. The Vols will host the opener on Sept. 1, 2018 at Neyland Stadium, with the return match set for Sept. 7, 2019 at Ohio Stadium.
"We're looking forward to a series with another one of college football's storied programs," athletic director Mike Hamilton said in a release. "I know our fans will enjoy going to the Horseshoe (Ohio Stadium) as much as their fans will enjoy coming to Neyland Stadium."
Quipped Fulmer, "I'll be right here waiting on them."
The Vols and Buckeyes have met only once previously, a 20-14 UT win in the 1996 Florida Citrus Bowl. UT has never hosted a Big Ten Conference opponent.
Practice Report: UT held a 35-play scrimmage as part of their 2 1/2-hour workout. Despite a turnover, Fulmer said he was pleased with junior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, the heir apparent to departed senior Erik Ainge.
"Jon has the upper hand and has certainly done nothing so far than pull himself further to the forefront," said Fulmer, who also complimented the play of quarterbacks B.J. Coleman and Nick Stephens.
Fulmer cited a run by sophomore tailback Lennon Creer as one of Thursday's top performances.
More Orange: Fulmer said redshirt freshman Josh Hawkins will be moved to linebacker once he recovers from a foot injury. The former Loudon High School star began his UT career at tailback. … Receiver coach Latrell Scott said junior Quinton Hancock has been the "go-to" receiver this spring. Scott said he's also been impressed with sophomore Gerald Jones.