Strong as his case may be, there’s no guarantee Alex Bullard will win it.
That uncertainty didn’t change the way he practiced in the spring, and it’s not doing anything to discourage the Tennessee sophomore during offseason workouts, either.
Rather than sit around and worry about how the NCAA will rule on his hardship waiver for instant eligibility after transferring in January from Notre Dame, Bullard is instead keeping his focus on the weight room and a new offense — plus a new position on top of that.
“I mean, I’m just coming to work every day, doing the best I can and controlling what I can control,” Bullard said last week. “Really, I feel like it will all work out in the end, and we should know pretty soon, but like I said, I’m just trying to do the best that I can every day and trying to keep working. That’s all I can control right now, and that’s what I’m going to do.
I came to work every day this spring and I would practice every day like I was getting ready to play this year. I’m practicing and preparing like I’m going to be playing in the fall.
“I came to work every day this spring and I would practice every day like I was getting ready to play this year. I’m practicing and preparing like I’m going to be playing in the fall.”
Based on the way the surprise addition to the roster performed during his first 15 workouts with the Vols, Bullard certainly earned the right to play when the season kicks off in September.
But no matter how the sophomore from Franklin looks on the field, the final determination will be made by the NCAA after it reaches a verdict on his request for eligibility after moving closer to home following the death of his father last year.
Based on precedent in some similar cases, including one previously involving UT and former tight end Brandon Warren, Bullard appears likely to be cleared to play right away. The Vols filed paperwork on Bullard’s behalf before spring camp even began, which should produce a decision sometime soon. A positive outcome would be a significant boost to the depth of the offensive line based on his versatility, which he can now use at every spot up front after adding snapping to his repertoire this spring.
“I really didn’t know I’d play there,” Bullard said. “I know when I talked to (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney before I got here he had mentioned center, but I didn’t know how much or how little I was going to play there. I was just preparing to go play wherever they put me, whether it be center, guard or tackle.
“Really just technique as far as pass-blocking, learning the system — that’s the biggest thing for me. Just getting used to playing center, controlling the tempo, calling the huddle, making sure all of the guys know the calls and everything, I’m still working on learning and perfecting in that area. And then snapping the ball in a live situation for the first time, those are the biggest adjustments, and I think I was able to handle it pretty well.”
The Vols haven’t been shy about moving players around in different roles on the line, and along with projected starter James Stone, both spots on the post-spring depth chart are filled by guys who didn’t bring prior experience at center with them.
But the biggest benefit to having Bullard available figures to be his ability to play elsewhere, which was already invaluable when Ja’Wuan James missed the majority of spring practice and Bullard was able to slide into his spot at right tackle. And considering how few options the Vols seemed to have up front at this time a year ago, officially having another at their disposal would be warmly welcomed by coach Derek Dooley.
“I think from where we were a year ago to where we are now, the development of the offensive line has been probably the most consistent,” Dooley said last month. “We feel like we’ve got some big, strong, athletic and talented players there. This time last year, we didn’t have an offensive line.
“So we’ve made a lot of progress there, but we’re not where we need to be when you can say, ‘OK, we’ve got enough bodies, let’s develop them.’ ”
Bullard is handling the development part with his body regardless of the outcome with the NCAA. For now, though, the wait continues to make sure it will be available for use in the fall.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward