Snap decision: Alex Bullard poised to replace James Stone at center

Derek Dooley: The physics of football

Vols coming out flat in second half?

Alex Bullard is typically among the last players to leave the Tennessee practice field.

On Tuesday he was tied with quarterback Matt Simms, and there was plenty of incentive for the two Vols to squeeze in some extra work together.

The ball has already been back in the hands of Simms for a game after an injury moved him into the starting lineup again. Now some shaky snaps have forced another change, and it appears Alex Bullard will be the new guy in charge of delivering them for the Vols as they prepare for another stiff test from No. 2 Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7:15 p.m.).

“Well, you know, we work a lot of guys, like we always do,” UT coach Derek Dooley said after practice. “Just trying to find the right pieces, and I don’t think it’s any secret that James (Stone) has been inconsistent on the shotgun snaps. And we can’t not get in the shotgun, so we’ll look at them a little bit and see if that (works), and James has played some guard before.

“It’s not something you want to do, but it’s also something that when you have a pattern, you have to not be afraid to take some action.”

The Vols (3-3, 0-3 SEC) decided it was time to do it during meetings on Monday, pulling the trigger on the switch from left guard to center from Bullard and going the opposite way with Stone on the interior of the offensive line.

Stone continued working with the starters on Tuesday morning as practice for the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) resumed, sliding back to the spot where he first broke into the lineup as a freshman last year with three starts at left guard. But at least for now, it seems the ball is out of his hands as UT looks at another converted center without any previous game experience at the position.

“I mean, it’s my first game going against one of the best defenses in the country at center, but one of our big things is just focusing on what we each have to do,” Bullard said. “My focus this week is to make the calls, communicate and get the ball to the quarterback, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.

“You know, the coaches called my number, they said we needed to do this, and if they didn’t think was the best chance for us to win, I doubt they’d be doing it. We just have to trust in them, and we’re rolling with it. I felt good today doing it.”

The next step is finding out how it feels for Bullard in a more pressurized situation, and there couldn’t be a much harder scenario for a debut than going on the road to face one of the nation’s best defenses.

Alabama figures to make moving the ball difficult enough without much help. So given the recent struggles as part of Stone’s transition to the position, Dooley appears ready to look elsewhere to clean up a few self-inflicted wounds from off-target snaps.

“You run the risk of having growing pains, but I think one of the real challenges as a coach is coaching the right guys in the right spots and trusting the development,” Dooley said. “That requires some early evaluation of who is more natural. If you guys remember, we did this back in the summer and I think because Alex was so new into the system, it was hard for us to bounce him back and forth. We decided just to settle in and we had a guy that had six games under his belt, it just didn’t make sense at the time.

“But we’re still showing a lot of inconsistencies, and we were hoping those inconsistencies would go away, but they haven’t. We can’t stick our head in the sand.”

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 » 100

tennvolsman19651965 writes:

Thank you God!!!!!!!!!!!!

CoverOrange writes:

I have to believe there was a reason Bullard started at LG and Stone at C. What are we giving up for this switch?

SmokeDog1972 writes:

Thank you, Mr. Jesus. Let Hands of Stone keep his hands off the rock.

bobmcreynolds#663132 writes:

Has anyone ever figured out why the coaches made Stone switch to snap with his right hand instead of his left hand this year?

CarlChilders writes:

Gotta try something. Bad snaps have killed drives in critical situations. May be off the topic, but I noticed that Prima Donna Bryce Brown has 16 yards on 3 carries... for the season.

Bigger_Al writes:

The right hand snap is necessary for continuity if you change centers. QB's will fumble and break fingers if they put their hands the wrong way.

Let's see what happens. Both Stone and Bullard are big, talented Sophomores.

RemembertheAlamo writes:

I cannot believe it took 6 games to figure this out? Of course I am a Stupid_Idiot....what do I know?

JCJ1986 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

I have to believe there was a reason Bullard started at LG and Stone at C. What are we giving up for this switch?

because the starting C would have been Darrin Gooch had they not moved Stone to C. Doolet has the best 5 OL we have starting, now we just need to figure out who works best where

VolinCalif writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

The right hand snap is necessary for continuity if you change centers. QB's will fumble and break fingers if they put their hands the wrong way.

Let's see what happens. Both Stone and Bullard are big, talented Sophomores.

Big A
You are correct but as a converted Lefty I can tell you first hand that it is very hard to preform top notch when you have a large nose guard ready to sit you on your a... The hand off pass isn't so bad but it too isn't natural and under pressure one will tend to make a mistake. Stone did a much better job than I thought he would.

RockyToptoNeyland writes:

in response to bobmcreynolds#663132:

Has anyone ever figured out why the coaches made Stone switch to snap with his right hand instead of his left hand this year?

it had to do with his blocking hands, the coaches felt like it was better for him to use his dominant hand first for blocking to improve his blocking....idk, he shouldn't be at center, and for next year we need to recruit a straight up center!!!

STstatefarmVOLS writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

The right hand snap is necessary for continuity if you change centers. QB's will fumble and break fingers if they put their hands the wrong way.

Let's see what happens. Both Stone and Bullard are big, talented Sophomores.

I would agree with your statement, actually I agreed with it up until Saturday. Anyone else notice that LSU's center snapped with his left hand and their QB is right handed???? I can't agree anymore, it seems to be working pretty good for the #1 team in the nation. It shouldn't have ever been an issue, should have let Stone keep snapping left handed

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Stone gave it his best shot but it wasn't to be.
Crowder also was recruited as a center. Eventually, the line will be in place from tackle to tackle, and it just might have to be a wait and see ...........until 2012.

Still, this guy ( me ) will never give up on the Vols.

Volunatic writes:

Glad to hear it. I thought this move was absolutely necessary.

vol49 writes:

Now just insert Tiny at tackle.

VolQB writes:

Bullard is a bull. I've only seen the GA and LSU D-line talk smack to him on the 1st quarter. After that they just shut-up. I predict an All-SEC honors for him next year.

Keep it up Alex. Go Vols!

bigOutfan writes:

in response to tennvolsman19651965:

Thank you God!!!!!!!!!!!!

When I saw the headlines that was my thought exactly!!! This has got be a step in the right direction. Go Vols!

CantStandCantStandSaban writes:

I bet they make him snap the ball with his left hand...

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

I have to believe there was a reason Bullard started at LG and Stone at C. What are we giving up for this switch?

We're giving up the reasons Stone was at center and Bullard was at LG. Now both of them are out of their natural best positions, and are inexperienced in the positions they are assuming, and all just before the game with the best defense in the country. Dagnab it.

TommyJack writes:

I think the R.handed/L.handed bidness is way overrated.

thevoice writes:

It's a step in a different direction, but I think this will come back to haunt the OL and the Vols. Stone already knows how to run the OL, so just changing to the right hand would be one relatively simple change to overcome vs. putting him at a new position, changing Bullard's position in mid-season, and having Bullard all of the sudden begin making OL calls. Too many changes!! Hopefully I'll be eating my words, but think this may be another coaching blunder. Good luck Bullard and Stone.

thevoice writes:

in response to RemembertheAlamo:

I cannot believe it took 6 games to figure this out? Of course I am a Stupid_Idiot....what do I know?

I agree, at least with your first sentence :)

jobrando#216494 writes:

Did one of the coaches finally read this blog? If they did they could give Worley the keys at this point so Bray will have better competition in the spring. We need a qb that will win a game other than Ky and Vandy

jobrando#216494 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

I have to believe there was a reason Bullard started at LG and Stone at C. What are we giving up for this switch?

the wrong decision for sure

snakeplissken writes:

in response to RemembertheAlamo:

I cannot believe it took 6 games to figure this out? Of course I am a Stupid_Idiot....what do I know?

Not just 6 games and countless turnovers and loss of yardage, but they knew this problem existed with Stone in the August practices and yet they did NOTHING about it. I'm amazed how long it takes this staff to adjust to simple things.

RUstilltalking writes:

It will not matter. They have bigger troubles then just worry about center exchange.

jeffralston writes:

What took so long? I realize that Stone switched hands but this should have been done after the Florida game. Come on Coach at this point what have you got to lose?

Realist writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

I have to believe there was a reason Bullard started at LG and Stone at C. What are we giving up for this switch?

Hopefully we are giving up the initial point of collapse. Go back and watch the Fla game and it is very obvious. The question should be is why it took so long? Another question is why it took so long to replace Teague?

florida-volfan writes:

what makes everybody think bullard is going to be any better. He does not have previous experience either. How about lets put a freakin center at the center position.

florida-volfan writes:

in response to florida-volfan:

what makes everybody think bullard is going to be any better. He does not have previous experience either. How about lets put a freakin center at the center position.

Or better yet, lets put a wide reciever at the QB position. What the heck, might actually be better than sims?

snakeplissken writes:

in response to florida-volfan:

what makes everybody think bullard is going to be any better. He does not have previous experience either. How about lets put a freakin center at the center position.

Well there's a 5 star senior pure center at Maryville High School who's ranked as high as 3rd in the nation. But our staff waited around too long and let Dan Brooks (former DL coach at Tennessee) come in and get his commitment to Clemson. The other THREE highly rated high school seniors in Tennessee are going other places too. If you can't recruit these highly coveted guys in your own back yard is it any wonder we'll finish behind 5 or 6 other SEC teams in recruiting this year?

florida-volfan writes:

in response to snakeplissken:

Well there's a 5 star senior pure center at Maryville High School who's ranked as high as 3rd in the nation. But our staff waited around too long and let Dan Brooks (former DL coach at Tennessee) come in and get his commitment to Clemson. The other THREE highly rated high school seniors in Tennessee are going other places too. If you can't recruit these highly coveted guys in your own back yard is it any wonder we'll finish behind 5 or 6 other SEC teams in recruiting this year?

are you serious snake? 5 star pure center down the road, if this is true its unbelievable. Getting burned by another of our former coaches, thats just great. wow!

Mobbdeep4life writes:

Bullard has shown the ability to handle different positions. His versatility would be an indication that he has a high football IQ so as far as blocking assignments he can probably handle. Just hope the snaps are cleaner.
I know for Stone it would be a struggle switching hands and it was. Hard to snap correctly on your off hand with 300+ lb linemen charging right at you.

osbymartin75 writes:

in response to florida-volfan:

are you serious snake? 5 star pure center down the road, if this is true its unbelievable. Getting burned by another of our former coaches, thats just great. wow!

He may be serious but he is also incorrect...there isnt a 5 star recruit in the state...he is 4 star espn, 3 star scout and rivals...no where near #3 in the nation in any of them...not taking anything away from the kid at maryville but the poster was extremely exaggerating about his status..

GiveHimSixMoreYears writes:

It only took Duhley 7 weeks and 3 SEC losses to figure out we had a problem. I guess now, that's going to be touted as an incredible sign of progress. Maybe, he went to the source and asked Vince what to do. Especially since Vince has been responsible for every job he ever had.

Pitiful, the way all the children here run after this loser - 5-7 this year, then you can all get giddy over Akron, Troy, and Ga. State next year.

Yea. just give him six more years and Dooley will get us to 7-5.

These are the trolls.

Pompey writes:

in response to snakeplissken:

Not just 6 games and countless turnovers and loss of yardage, but they knew this problem existed with Stone in the August practices and yet they did NOTHING about it. I'm amazed how long it takes this staff to adjust to simple things.

WRONG....they did not know this problem existed in August.....they found out at Florida....

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to GiveHimSixMoreYears:

It only took Duhley 7 weeks and 3 SEC losses to figure out we had a problem. I guess now, that's going to be touted as an incredible sign of progress. Maybe, he went to the source and asked Vince what to do. Especially since Vince has been responsible for every job he ever had.

Pitiful, the way all the children here run after this loser - 5-7 this year, then you can all get giddy over Akron, Troy, and Ga. State next year.

Yea. just give him six more years and Dooley will get us to 7-5.

These are the trolls.

Vols,

Kinda' funny would't you say? A whiner/troll calling others a troll.

Let's hope this one posting won't get 6 more years here.

vols2#227315 writes:

Now get Simms out of the line up and we could win some games. This will not happen unless Phil leaves the TV booth. Looks like Simms would do like to help UT to win some games by quitting football.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Yes, Lawd!

Fryinpansvols writes:

in response to RemembertheAlamo:

I cannot believe it took 6 games to figure this out? Of course I am a Stupid_Idiot....what do I know?

Amen brother! I said the snap issue should have been fixed during the Florida game. Basic coaching and fundamentals is why coaches get paid big bucks! GBO!

snakeplissken writes:

in response to Pompey:

WRONG....they did not know this problem existed in August.....they found out at Florida....

Sorry to inform you, but you're wrong. I attended three practices and two scrimmages, and the problem was there in August.

VolBy3 writes:

in response to vols2#227315:

Now get Simms out of the line up and we could win some games. This will not happen unless Phil leaves the TV booth. Looks like Simms would do like to help UT to win some games by quitting football.

You have shown that you are a total brainless backside. Nothing more worth saying to you.

Bigger_Al writes:

in response to STstatefarmVOLS:

I would agree with your statement, actually I agreed with it up until Saturday. Anyone else notice that LSU's center snapped with his left hand and their QB is right handed???? I can't agree anymore, it seems to be working pretty good for the #1 team in the nation. It shouldn't have ever been an issue, should have let Stone keep snapping left handed

Wow, good observation. I did not notice that. Actually, Stone snapped left-handed last season in some unorthodox fashion.

snakeplissken writes:

in response to florida-volfan:

are you serious snake? 5 star pure center down the road, if this is true its unbelievable. Getting burned by another of our former coaches, thats just great. wow!

I was wrong on the 5 star, but I found out they never rank a pure center as a 5 star anyway. He is the highest ranked 4 star by two ranking services and IS RANKED AT THE TOP RATED CENTER IN THE NATION!!!

CoverOrange writes:

in response to Realist:

Hopefully we are giving up the initial point of collapse. Go back and watch the Fla game and it is very obvious. The question should be is why it took so long? Another question is why it took so long to replace Teague?

That's the negative facet. The positive facet being surrendered probably is that Bullard is much better at LG than C.

69grad writes:

Give the coach his due. He is trying to put together a team the same way Saban did with the help of Dooly.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

Wow, good observation. I did not notice that. Actually, Stone snapped left-handed last season in some unorthodox fashion.

I seem to remember it had to do with ball placement for the QB when under center (strings facing the right way). Shouldn't matter as much on shotgun when the strings could end up anywhere on rotation.

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

So glad the change was FINALLY made..Hopefully we will see a huge difference Sat.evening..Gonna give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt as to why it took them so long to make the change but at least they made it.

Smokey says sometimes change is necessary..

givehim6 writes:

The switch should have been made after the UF game, we would had the off week to pratice. Now not sure Bullard will have the timeing down.

volpreacher writes:

my question is this. Stone switched to being a righty for under center snaps. So what difference would it make if he snapped the long snap left handed? Either way, I trust Dooley's decision.

jsmithnga#207674 writes:

in response to STstatefarmVOLS:

I would agree with your statement, actually I agreed with it up until Saturday. Anyone else notice that LSU's center snapped with his left hand and their QB is right handed???? I can't agree anymore, it seems to be working pretty good for the #1 team in the nation. It shouldn't have ever been an issue, should have let Stone keep snapping left handed

I noticed that also and wondered why nothing had been said about it before; just can't believe that the left/right hand can make that much difference; did't seem to bothet the LSU qbs.

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