James Stone ready for battle with buddy Zach Fulton

Lineman making most of chance

James  Stone

James Stone

The opportunity arrived, and there was nothing James Stone could change about the way it showed up.

Given an option, the Tennessee right guard surely would have selected a different method instead of an injury to a teammate, particularly one as close to him as Zach Fulton.

But all Stone could do with his buddy on the shelf with a stress fracture in his foot was slide into his spot and make the most of Fulton's absence. And no matter how good of friends they might be, Stone has no plans to simply concede the starting job he's held throughout spring football camp as the Vols head into their second scrimmage today at Neyland Stadium.

"You always hate an injury, especially for one of our guys who have been with us and that we all came in with together," Stone said after practice on Friday. "But you have to make the most of whatever you get.

"Whatever reps I get, I have to make them count regardless of where he's at."

For the first half of camp, that was on the sideline and mostly riding an exercise bike as Fulton recovered from the injury he suffered running sprints during offseason workouts.

Now the junior who started every game at right guard a year ago is right behind Stone on the unofficial depth chart, battling to earn back his spot in the lineup and in some cases already chipping away at the first-team reps as Fulton rotates back into the mix and knocks off a bit of rust.

And while Stone expressed no concerns about sharing time at guard as the Vols sort through a deeper pool of candidates for playing time on the offensive line, neither he nor the coaching staff are going to allow Fulton to just reclaim his spot without a battle.

"I think it was important after the season that really nobody earned the right to their job," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "I mean, if you make all-conference, OK, I get it. But when you don't have the season the way we wanted to have it, we didn't have a lot of great production up front so they were starters by default.

"It was just all under the guise of promoting competition, and Zach is playing well but James is, too. If James hadn't been playing well, Zach might have moved up in that one spot. But we've got about eight guys up front right now playing really well, and it's helped, it's good, it's healthy."

The competition got even stronger when Fulton received his clean bill of health earlier in the week, setting him up for a scrimmage debut this afternoon. Even without him, though, the Vols were able to demonstrate some progress with their beleaguered rushing attack, helping Rajion Neal pile up 100 yards and opening holes for Devrin Young as well on the way to 60 more.

But that certainly doesn't mean Fulton hasn't been welcomed back with open arms by the Vols — including the one who now has to hold him off in a fight for playing time.

"We know each other so well, it's more of a friendly competition as opposed to it being somebody I don't know," Stone said. "It's not really different because we've all been battling for positions since we all got here.

"We just kind of rotate, alternate, share reps and each try to do as good as we can on every rep we get."

There's more sharing for Stone to do now. But that just means his friend is healthy again, and that obviously beats the alternative.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. Follow him at http://

twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 16

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Nothing wrong with spirited competition, but I think ZF will be ready to go this Fall..Good luck to both of you guys..GBO!!

givehim6 writes:

Just don't let Stone play center again.

jack4444 writes:

Fulton was a better pass blocker than run blocker last year. Seemed a little plodding. Apparently he knocked off 10 pounds or more. Good competition.

AllVol1 writes:

Want them both to be all conference!

cincivol writes:

I don't care what anyone says, Dooley has done a great job so far. Too often people do not look at how the Vols talent and team chemistry had deteriorated over Fulmers last 3 years to Kiffins year and illegal troubles. Heck with Kiffin's class and all that left and players that left its almost the same as if the program was put on a 5 year probation of scholarships. The team was without about 35 players due to various problems. Glad to see the talent filling up again.

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

Good that he's healthy and ready to compete again.

I hope this is the year they prove they've finally learned their run technique and get a mean, nasty attitude to knoch D guys on their butts and open good holes for our RB's to explode through.

Experts say it takes 3 to 4 years for a good O lineman to learn solid run blocking techniques and that pass blocking is slot easier.

We've had good pass blocking so now it's time for the road grading run blocking to come alive.

Get ready big guys because we're all expecting alot from you this season.

VFL...GBO!!!

tovolny writes:

Well whoopee!...It looks like the Hill might be coming back. I just realized there are seniors on campus that haven't experienced a good decent football team. You know, one that is capable and likely to be beat all opponents...like the teams in the 80's and 90's. As far as Stone and Fulton are concerned, I believe they could have been starters in those years. My best memories are those teams of the late 60's, because I was at almost all games. The feeling is back, you know, that feeling you get when a Vol defender hits an opposing RB around the corner and spins him head-over-heals capped off by the Neyland-ites all going oooooooooohhhhhh. Let's CRANK it up guys...time to play TeNnEsSeE FoOtBaLl.

Orangeblood13 writes:

in response to cincivol:

I don't care what anyone says, Dooley has done a great job so far. Too often people do not look at how the Vols talent and team chemistry had deteriorated over Fulmers last 3 years to Kiffins year and illegal troubles. Heck with Kiffin's class and all that left and players that left its almost the same as if the program was put on a 5 year probation of scholarships. The team was without about 35 players due to various problems. Glad to see the talent filling up again.

Great and dooley do not go together . I'm as excited
As the next person but he needs to win, something, and against
The powers. Here's to hoping so.

VolGrad writes:

In other news: Good story about Texas A&M changes as they head into the SEC.
http://espn.go.com/college-football/s...

nocleats writes:

The "Battle between Stone and Fulton will most likely be won in the weight room from April 23 through early August. Strength will play a huge part of who wins.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

Stone is a fine young man! I don't know Fulton but I imagine he is too. There should be plenty of playing time for both of these guys. I also hear Crowder is stepping up...great news. Things are looking up. I expect a good year this year.

Go Vols!

Bigger_Al writes:

I'd like to see Stone redshirt if possible, based on what I'd read about his strength not being up to SEC standards last season. If Zack is back and Mack doesn't lack, plus throw in Kyler, Marcus, and maybe Alan, then it seems like it could a worthwhile move.

rockytn2jc writes:

in response to Orangeblood13:

Great and dooley do not go together . I'm as excited
As the next person but he needs to win, something, and against
The powers. Here's to hoping so.

Something against the powers!?.... what is this He-man!?.. All the guy was saying was his opinion and what has happened over the years!!!.... Stop being so negative!!!!

NashvillePreds writes:

Interesting to me that Fulton was a Rivals 3*. IMO, just further evidence that we fans don't really know who we have on signing day.
I think/hope Dooley can get it done with the guys on the roster this year. It would be great if he was our coach for 20+ years. However, the only way he even survives this year is to turn some of the Ls to Ws.
Go Vols

AllVol1 writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

I'd like to see Stone redshirt if possible, based on what I'd read about his strength not being up to SEC standards last season. If Zack is back and Mack doesn't lack, plus throw in Kyler, Marcus, and maybe Alan, then it seems like it could a worthwhile move.

This is a rising junior. I would not redshirt a guy who knows the playbook and has been through the spring training on the hopes of some freshmen. Better to have the depth and experience, in my opinion. We have seen the talent and skill drop off dramatically from starters to bench for the last 4-5 years. Finally, we have linemen in true competition for the spots. We need MORE of that!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to cincivol:

I don't care what anyone says, Dooley has done a great job so far. Too often people do not look at how the Vols talent and team chemistry had deteriorated over Fulmers last 3 years to Kiffins year and illegal troubles. Heck with Kiffin's class and all that left and players that left its almost the same as if the program was put on a 5 year probation of scholarships. The team was without about 35 players due to various problems. Glad to see the talent filling up again.

I don't think CDD has done a great job, but I do believe he's done an admirable one..I also believe with a junior heavy class UT will finally have the depth to compete this season..GBO!!

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