James Stone working to win back one of the jobs he lost

Tennessee offensive lineman James Stone (64) goes head-to-head with MTSU defensive tackle SaCoby Carter (51) at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

Tennessee offensive lineman James Stone (64) goes head-to-head with MTSU defensive tackle SaCoby Carter (51) at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011.

Willie Bohannon on the pressure by the defense

When James Stone lost his job at center, it didn't cost him a spot in the starting lineup.

After just one game at left guard, the Tennessee sophomore lost that, too.

But rather than sulk about his shrinking playing time or assign blame elsewhere for his shrinking responsibilities, Stone instead simply put the spotlight on himself and looked at the film.

A player widely praised for his intelligence already knew there were issues with his snaps, but he also could see a few other technical problems. And a guy also known for his work ethic went right back to work trying to correct them and make a push for either one of those jobs he once held as the Vols prepare for a trip to No. 8 Arkansas on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 6 p.m.).

"I hadn't really been getting the job done as well as I could have on the field," Stone said. "I felt like I needed to focus not on who's starting, but really focus on why I'm not starting and why I'm not performing the way I need to perform.

"I just handled it like I always handle it. Just keep coming out, keep trying to improve, keep trying to get better, trying to elevate my game wherever I'm at on the field or wherever I am on the practice field."

That has apparently yielded some positive results over the past two weeks since he was replaced by Marcus Jackson at guard, a move that came one game after Alex Bullard took over at center to try to give UT's quarterbacks a more consistent delivery.

Instead of complaining about having to watch the first play from the sideline for the first time in 12 games, Stone turned in perhaps some of his finest practices of the season in his reserve role. And that quickly led to a return to action as he shared time with Jackson last week at guard to give the Vols (4-5, 0-5 SEC) another viable option as it continues to develop depth on the line.

"James is a super-intelligent kid that watches the tape, has very high expectations of himself and when he's not playing that well, he understands what is going on," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "We think he works his butt off and he earned the right on the practice field to get back on the field a few snaps.

"Marcus brings a little more girth, a little more butt to push people around a little bit better. James brings a bit more experience and probably makes fewer mental mistakes. Any given thing, you have pros and cons with both of them. We like both the kids, it's just trying to find some harmony with both of them."

After using both of them in the win over Middle Tennessee State, Chaney didn't address any specific plan for how they'd be used against the Razorbacks (8-1, 4-1) — though Jackson is again slated to get the starting nod.

Bullard also will be out there for the first snap, and is still in charge of getting it to the quarterback for the Vols in place of Stone. But if the situation calls for help at either spot, UT won't have to look far to find somebody with experience.

"At the end of the day I just want to be on the line anywhere on the field and I just want to play," Stone said. "(Starting) isn't really my focus.

"My focus is just improving as a football player and as an offensive lineman."

Razor Sharp: One after another Justin Wilcox rattled off the weapons his defense has to try to stop this weekend.

Obviously, as he broke down an attack that leads the conference in scoring, the UT defensive coordinator had a long list.

"Well, they're explosive across the board," Wilcox said after practice Wednesday. "I mean, obviously, their skill players, their wideouts, tight ends, they beat people all year. The running backs are very skilled. They're good in the run game, and they're good in the pass game. They use them a lot of different ways, so it's a very dynamic offense.

"And the quarterback throws the ball as good as anybody we've seen, and probably better."

Bumps and Bruises: Linebacker Austin Johnson (elbow) and tight end Mychal Rivera (foot) were again in green, non-contact jerseys during UT's workout Wednesday morning. Neither injury is considered serious, and both starters are expected to play.

The Vols also are anticipating having Michael Palardy back to full strength for the trip to take on the Razorbacks after missing last week's game with a leg issue. Backup Chip Rhome, however, doesn't appear likely to contribute — which will mean another game in uniform for walk-on Derrick Brodus.

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.

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Comments » 15

CoverOrange writes:

Stone worked on snapping with his right hand so that the ball was delivered to the QB at the right angle and laces facing the right way. That's important when the QB is under center. In the shot gun don't you just need to hit a spot and couldn't Stone use his left hand for that? Just wondering. I'll hang up and listen.

murrayvol writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Stone worked on snapping with his right hand so that the ball was delivered to the QB at the right angle and laces facing the right way. That's important when the QB is under center. In the shot gun don't you just need to hit a spot and couldn't Stone use his left hand for that? Just wondering. I'll hang up and listen.

LSU's center snaps with his left hand.....under center or not. I can't believe it's that big a deal.

dvols writes:

wait till Stone is a senior......

TommyJack writes:

in response to murrayvol:

LSU's center snaps with his left hand.....under center or not. I can't believe it's that big a deal.

It's not. Dools should have left him alone.

witcherjk10 writes:

Am I the only one who noticed that he's holding in the photo?

arkyvol writes:

what dooley and company tried to do with stone makes about as much sense as trying to turn a right handed q.b. into a southpaw. the first few games i watched where bray's first act on every snap seemed to be trying to come up with the ball, i figured that stone was just a bad center and wondered why a change wasn't made pronto. when i read that our h.c. genius was trying to make stone what he ain't, i came to the conclusion that a change is needed, not at center, but at h.c.

Bigger_Al writes:

They said earlier that Stone needed/needs a redshirt season to develop physically. I wonder if he can redshirt next season given all five starters return plus Tiny, and Crowder/Posey/Kyler all coming off redshirts to provide depth.

budd#207344 writes:

The O line coach does not have a clue and changing how Stone snapped is an obvious result of his poor coaching ability. These guys are all top of the ranking linemen and this guy has screwed them up. CDD needs to announce that Hiestand "is pursuing other opportunities" as soon as the season ends. And hopefully he has been looking for the replacement instead of waiting til season's end.

usafvol writes:

in response to MerlOT_GoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Have another drink there Merlot and let the coaches handle it..

witcherjk10 writes:

in response to Jeff_Hall_VFL:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Not so fast, my friend *waving a pencil*.
I think Tauren just took a handoff based on the way he looks and the fact that both MTSU are keyed on him....Of course I'm just joking about the call....happens on every play if you want to call it completely by the book. As long as James has his arms coiled and his hands in tight against the defender's torso like in the picture, he can grab all he wants and never get flagged

hufstedler02 writes:

in response to witcherjk10:

Am I the only one who noticed that he's holding in the photo?

By rule, I do not believe that is holding. I am almost certain that is how lineman are taught. Holding is when you grab them outside of the shoulders.

SummerfieldVol writes:

As I have said before our offense needs a new direction, by that I mean new leadership, new play calling. James Stone is just a example of the looney thing the offense co-ordinator had done to this team. I will have to say Dooley must hve given his approval to try the switching hands deal with James Stone. The OC calls the plays and must approve or think up the things that has happened to UT football.

do_it_Dooley writes:

in response to witcherjk10:

Am I the only one who noticed that he's holding in the photo?

it really isnt considered holding if hes grabbing inside the shoulders...or if he doesnt let go when the guy tries to turn around

snakeplissken writes:

in response to SummerfieldVol:

As I have said before our offense needs a new direction, by that I mean new leadership, new play calling. James Stone is just a example of the looney thing the offense co-ordinator had done to this team. I will have to say Dooley must hve given his approval to try the switching hands deal with James Stone. The OC calls the plays and must approve or think up the things that has happened to UT football.

I agree with you Summerfield. Our Keystone Kop offensive staff needs to be replaced. It took all preseason practicing and 6 games into the season for this staff to finally see there was a problem with Stone snapping the ball. Then the staff over reacted with their Chinese Fire Drill mentality by moving linemen around with no thought of who could do what. That's what you get when you have a staff that doesn't have a clue what they're doing. And in the 8th game of their second season they couldn't even get 3 yards per carry against a 2-7 MTSU team for the Sun Belt Conference, ranked 4th worst in the nation against the run.

It's hard to fault these young men - many of whom were ranked 4 stars - when they have incompetent coaches like they do.

CommodoreCapital writes:

Should have gone to Vandy "Big James". You probably wouldn't start there either but atleast you would go to a bowl game.

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