The center position appears to be getting younger for Tennessee.
Meanwhile, the snapping style should look considerably older with James Stone handling the role.
The Vols true freshman is officially a game-time decision to make his debut start at center on Saturday (TV: CBS College Sports, 8 p.m.) against Memphis, with the coaching staff keeping a close eye on Stone’s exchanges with new quarterback Tyler Bray before making a final call. And considering his old-school approach with the left hand at the back of the ball and a straight-back motion that doesn’t rotate the football, it bears watching for anybody not accustomed to a technique that’s generally more common in option offenses.
“We went back and watched some Bears tape from 1937,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney joked. “It looks like that’s what they were doing and they won the championship, so we figured we’d give it a whirl.
“Actually, none of us have been around a left-handed center, at least I haven’t. … It was interesting in the way the ball comes up. We thought, people have been doing this for years on pop-up snaps. I thought what the heck, let’s take a look at it and James feels more comfortable doing it and the quarterbacks feel more comfortable with him doing it. Let’s go with it. Who really cares as long as the quarterback gets the ball?”
That’s obviously a critical first step for any play the Vols (2-6, 0-5 SEC) will run against the Tigers (1-7, 0-5 Conference USA) this weekend, and for the most part UT hasn’t had many issues handling snaps with previous centers Cody Pope or Darin Gooch at center this season.
And if Stone’s throwback style doesn’t look like it will break that trend, his size and intelligence combine to make him the ideal candidate to take over and anchor the offensive line for Bray — who only has to make a slight rotation of his hands to account for the different angle of the football.
“These guys have been taking snaps their whole career with their right hand up,” Vols coach Derek Dooley said. “All they have to do is tilt their hands just a little bit, it’s just a slight adjustment.
“Look, is there risk? There’s risk. But it’s not because of the way he’s snapping, there’s risk because he’s never snapped. If we were doing it the old way, we’d have just as many fumbled snaps, I’m convinced of that. What you need is experience, and I just feel like we’ve got to get out there and do it. If we’re having a problem, we put Gooch in the game. I don’t know any other way to say it. (Stone) is a good football player, and he’s going to be a really good center. So we’ve got to go learn to snap it at some point, and I don’t want to wait until March.”
Right Spots, Right Times: Nick Reveiz isn’t putting up Eric Berry-like return yardage.
But the Tennessee linebacker has become an improbable team leader with two interceptions after nabbing one last Saturday against South Carolina. The next step is finding a way to improve on that zero in the yardage column.
“I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t have the greatest hands or anything like that, but if I get around it, I’ll try to take it down,” Reveiz said. “The two picks I’ve had have just been a blessing. Quite honestly both times the quarterback has just thrown it to me and I’ve tried to not look like a complete idiot and just make sure that I caught it.”
Missing in Action: For the second time in a little more than a week, cornerback Art Evans missed practice for undisclosed personal reasons.
Associate athletic director of communications Jimmy Stanton said Evans’ status with the team is unchanged and that he will be back for the Memphis game if he “gets these personal issues taken care of.”
The junior was absent from a workout on the Wednesday before the South Carolina game, though he did come off the bench and see limited action in the loss. Prentiss Waggner is expected to start in front of him for the second consecutive week.
Bumps and Bruises: Cornerbacks Marsalis Teague (turf toe) and Naz Oliver (knee) are not expected to play. Kicker Daniel Lincoln (quadriceps) is out as well.
Another cornerback was in a red, non-contact jersey during Thursday’s workout, but Eric Gordon (concussion) is expected to play. Linebacker Herman Lathers (back spasms) took his red jersey off for the first time this week.
Andrew Gribble contributed to this report.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.