With hands of Stone: Center's grip on situation key focus for Vols

Tennessee’s James Stone, center, looks to clear a hole during the Vols’ game against Memphis on Nov. 6 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Stone, a left-handed freshman, while have his snap style remade during the offseason.

Photo by J. Miles Cary

Tennessee’s James Stone, center, looks to clear a hole during the Vols’ game against Memphis on Nov. 6 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Stone, a left-handed freshman, while have his snap style remade during the offseason.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley talks after practice Wednesday at Haslam Field

Rajion Neal talks about the tradition of backs at UT

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel
Tennessee offensive lineman James Stone, right, receives instructions from offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, left, during the Vols' first official practice of the season at Haslam Field on Tuesday.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011 // Buy this photo

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel Tennessee offensive lineman James Stone, right, receives instructions from offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, left, during the Vols' first official practice of the season at Haslam Field on Tuesday.

James Stone might just have the most analyzed and scrutinized right hand on the entire Tennessee roster.

The sophomore center understands why he fields question after question about snapping with his opposite hand, but he hopes to snuff out the fuss as soon as the Vols open the season against Montana.

"Once everybody gets to see that I go out there and I can do it significantly and consistently," Stone said after Wednesday's practice, "it won't be a big deal anymore."

Whether or not Stone will ever get a chance to show off his smooth snap has yet to be determined. He could very well be lined up left of fellow center Alex Bullard, or out of the starting rotation altogether.

Though the Vols boast one of the most stable, young offensive lines in the conference, there is still some shaking out to do before a bona fide starting five emerges. At the center of it all — both literally and figuratively — is Stone, whose well-regarded intelligence has helped provide offensive line coach Harry Hiestand with a truly versatile option.

"He's smart, even though sometimes he doesn't show it," said right guard Zach Fulton, Stone's roommate. "We'll be in the meeting room sometimes and Coach Hiestand will ask a question, and I'll probably be completely lost about it, but he'll know the answer.

"I appreciate that about him. He knows a lot on the field and off the field."

Stone's work ethic and intelligence recently caught another Vol's attention — and it had nothing to do with the fact that he and quarterback Tyler Bray could be seen practicing snaps hours on end throughout the summer.

Senior running back Tauren Poole, the player UT's offensive line has vowed to help guide to 2,000 yards this season, singled out Stone on Monday when he discussed the unit's potential.

"This summer he's been talking to me about defenses, stunts. I didn't get any of that last year," Poole said. "I was like 'Woah, where did this come from?' It's great to see."

It was at the urgency of Hiestand that Stone began breaking down film of opposing defenses as much as a quarterback. He said he found an hour or two each day — in between his classes and all of the snapping — to seclude himself in UT's film room, as he "became a student of the game."

"I really got the crackdown on that," Stone said. "Me and Bullard, we kind of got together a lot."

Stone called the competition between him and Bullard as "healthy" and "friendly." By the end of the month, though, it might not be a competition at all, as both could end up starting.

As it stood entering Tuesday's practice, according to a depth chart provided by the program, Stone was slotted as the starting center and Bullard was listed behind him. Both JerQuari Schofield and freshman Marcus Jackson were listed as potential starters at left guard.

But the potential moving and shaking was already on display Wednesday, as Bullard worked with Bray and the first team during early practice drills. Stone said he worked at both guard and center throughout the practice.

The goal is to not just put the five best linemen on the field, but to also diversify the players enough so that, no matter the situation, the next-best player comes off the bench in the event of an injury.

"We're still in the experimental stages, doing the same thing with the freshmen," Dooley said. "And each day you try to start settling in."

Stone, who played tackle in high school, began last season at guard and finished at center, said he has no preference where he lines up this season, just so long as he's "on the field and playing with my guys."

"I feel like I'm more comfortable and more knowledgeable with what I'm doing," Stone said. "I'm more comfortable making calls and being able to play different positions on the line."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 33

LJS1984 writes:

I'm expecting Bullard and Stone to start somewhere on the line with another talented guy like Schofield and/or Jackson coming off the bench to spell them at times. Bullard and Stone are so smart that they both need to be on the field at the same time and as often as possible. I would suspect that their dedication to watching film will have them both in the starting lineup.

keepitreal4vols writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

UTbassdrummer writes:

Nothing but promising info here. Dudes making extreme efforts to be great. I'm guessing this gets minimal comments, due to the lack of info people can complain about.

SO GREAT hearing news like this. Keep working!!!

OrangeinCarolina2 writes:

Last year we saw the O line mature as the season progressed. This year it's even more beefed up. Stone has shown the type of dedication it takes to be on the field. He will be a huge asset. Let the trolls keep talking. After the game they may be walking. This will be an interesting season. With a break here and there, we could be a 8 or 9 game winner. And we got some breaks coming our way. A month away from Football Time in Tennessee! GO VOLS!

volfan2002 writes:

Offensively we look to have the players we need to be successful. If we can get it done on defense we'll win a lot of games.

Brillovol writes:

Can't wait to see the line in action this year. Could this one be as talented as the Bubba Miller and Chad Clifton lines?

CoverOrange writes:

Dooley should talk up he intelligence factor more. Bill Walsh had his heyday with the 49ers in the 80s predicated on drafting players that scored well on the wonderlic test and did well in school. Talent is useless if you don't know how to use it.

scvols writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Dooley should talk up he intelligence factor more. Bill Walsh had his heyday with the 49ers in the 80s predicated on drafting players that scored well on the wonderlic test and did well in school. Talent is useless if you don't know how to use it.

Thats a great point, we get all wrapped up with stars. If a 5 star is dumb as a rock, can't do school work, doesn't know his assignments, cant make his reads, what good is he.

VOLinATL writes:

The OL...smartest guys on the field!

Volunatic writes:

It's nice to go into the season expecting the offensive line to be one of the team strengths.
GO VOLS!!!

VolVox writes:

The OL may well be the strongest unit on the team, with lots of talent, intelligence, and (now) depth. They also seem to be responding well to coaching. If I were Poole, Neal, or another RB, I'd be salivating. The best way to help the D is to play keepaway with the rock; maybe the O could shoot for an average T.O.P. of 40 minutes.

allvol9 writes:

Great article. Love Stones attitude. Just wants to be on the field no matter where they put him....awesome!

RatherBeDrivingaTitleist writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I am curious about the UT vs. Vandy game.

mdvol writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Take the OVER on the VOLS and the UNDER on the Gators. VOLS win in the Swamp.

Vols start the season 4-0. (Georgia 0-2)

MusicCityVol writes:

I think James Stone has the chance to be the anchor for this offensive line. He is a very talented kid and is obviously a team-first guy who is willing to move positions and leave his comfort zone for the betterment of UT football. I for one am pulling for James Stone.

Interview with the Enemy: Kentucky
http://www.checkerboardchatter.com/20...

Bigger_Al writes:

Nothing against Marcus Jackson and Tiny, who they say are huge, strong, and talented. But I hope we have enough good O-Linemen so that we don't have to start a true Freshman there this year. I do hope they both come off the bench and get good experience.

tnoutlaw2001#228008 writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

2 fluke calls and they win 8 games.

See LSU game last year, and refer to Arkansas fumble 1998.

trubleoj#657755 writes:

Coach 'em up Harry. These big uglies need to find their Nasty. You can't win (especially on the road) in the SEC without having a O line and a D line with serious Nasty in them. You need to OWN the other player and demonstrate it EVERY play.

Mobbdeep4life writes:

This seems like a better problem to have than last year. A year ago it was, "we don't have enough bodies" to probably being able to redshirt a few freshmen. When you can have size like Bullard, Jackson and Richardson on the bench that says alot.
Any news on Marquis Pair? Haven't heard much about him.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Witch Doctor say anyone who puts in this much effort is surely "owned" by it...Witch Doctor say good luck with that while WE enjoy sports. Witch Doctor say silly, sports are fun not for whiney girls.
Bones never lie.

VolFanInMO writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

This from a guy who thinks the Naval Academy is in West Point.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What did Vegas predict for Auburn last year?
What was the over/under on Bama last year?
What was the line on Florida last year?

Flip a coin a thousand times and the results will be pretty close to 50/50 heads to tails. Flip it just a few times and it could be anything.

GreerVol22 writes:

I wish we had these problems on the D-line.

Volunatic writes:

Javiere Mitchell, LB from Leeds, Alabama, plans to make another recruiting visit to Tennessee. He is ranked a 4-star by rivals, and currently has offers from bama, Auburn, and MS St, among others.
GO VOLS!!!

keviningeorgia writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You still quoting Vegas odds as if they are an indication of exactly what is going to happen? You are either an idiot or think whoever reads your phooey is an idiot and will believe it. I'll take the over on Tn for $1,000 with you right now. We'll both put the money in an escrrow account and see who picks it up at seasons end. There you go troll, put your money where your mouth is if you believe Vegas odds so much....

NO_DIGGITY writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Turncoat,

I found some odds.

CSS disgruntled ex-UT Fan 1 to 2
CSS has he ever had Female Company 100000000 to 1
CSS works in GVX Cubicle next to ZZ and DC 2 to 1
CSS has ever been in a Vandy Classroom 10000 to 1
CSS has mullet and eats Pork Rinds 1 to 2
CSS goes about TREE FITTY with Jorts on 1 to 1.

VOLliven2it writes:

We will need Stone's big hand and big body helping anchor the O-line. It will be exciting to watch. I hope we run the ball and punch some people in the mouth unexpectedly.

jobrando#216494 writes:

Well I was afraid of this for James Stone. Trying to be a team player and agreeing to move to center may come back to haunt him. I hope not because he's been my farvorite since he signed.

EHSvols23 writes:

"Whether or not Stone will ever get a chance to show off his smooth snap has yet to be determined. He could very well be lined up left of fellow center Alex Bullard, or out of the starting rotation altogether."

Did anyone else find this comment misleading or confusing? Please tell me there isn't a train of thought among the coaches that would keep Stone out of the starting lineup ??? I didn't see it expanded upon in the later paragraphs, so I hope not.....GBO!!!

AllVol1 writes:

What a difference a year makes.

Offense starts in the trenches and this OL will control the trenches most of the time this year. Our RB's will keep the LB's honest and our WR's will exploit backfields given the extra time of protection. This will be much more fun to watch than last year.

If our D comes together, stays healthy, and a couple of freshmen LB's provide some depth, we will surprise people greatly.

Look, I am a Vol through and through, but it feels a lot better being one right now than it did a year ago. Really appreciating CDD, his staff, and these players. Go Vols!!

TommyJack writes:

in response to NO_DIGGITY:

Turncoat,

I found some odds.

CSS disgruntled ex-UT Fan 1 to 2
CSS has he ever had Female Company 100000000 to 1
CSS works in GVX Cubicle next to ZZ and DC 2 to 1
CSS has ever been in a Vandy Classroom 10000 to 1
CSS has mullet and eats Pork Rinds 1 to 2
CSS goes about TREE FITTY with Jorts on 1 to 1.

Mwahahahahahahahahahahha

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to NO_DIGGITY:

Turncoat,

I found some odds.

CSS disgruntled ex-UT Fan 1 to 2
CSS has he ever had Female Company 100000000 to 1
CSS works in GVX Cubicle next to ZZ and DC 2 to 1
CSS has ever been in a Vandy Classroom 10000 to 1
CSS has mullet and eats Pork Rinds 1 to 2
CSS goes about TREE FITTY with Jorts on 1 to 1.

Witch Doctor say excellent!
Bones never lie.

RichmondKyVol writes:

in response to VOLinATL:

The OL...smartest guys on the field!

Without an OL, backs and receivers don't matter much.

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