Dooley answers questions about the Vols' offense
Dallas Thomas talks about asst. coach Sam Pittman and the O-line
James Stone had been Tennessee's center for parts of two up-and-down years when he was told, in so many words, that the Vols were moving on.
Then, just as abruptly, coaches handed him a ball this summer and told him to start snapping again.
Stone has reclaimed his old job with zeal, using the summer to practice with quarterback Tyler Bray and spending the first two days of camp working with the No. 1 team.
"Right now it's open season on the starting center job, but I feel like it's mine to take," Stone said after Saturday's practice.
That's a far cry from spring, when it looked like Alex Bullard had already taken the job. Now Bullard, who transferred from Notre Dame after the 2010 season so he could be closer to family after the death of his father, is working at tackle, although coach Derek Dooley has emphasized the line is still in flux.
Bullard and Stone are both juniors from the Nashville area. They have battled for this job before.
"I learned (center). I put a lot of work into it. I feel like that's my best position," said Bullard, who missed some offseason workouts
this summer to handle what Dooley said were personal issues. "But my best position has to be wherever they want to put me."
Stone's hold on the starting job has always been tenuous, but it's not because of his blocking or his ability to make calls. Stone's propensity for botched snaps has been his undoing.
"It was a glaring flaw in my game," Stone said. "It was the really most important aspect of my game, and I was messing up. It was simple — delivering the ball to the quarterback. Since it wasn't happening, we weren't getting plays started and it was hurting the team."
Stone's snapping has always been a question because of his unorthodox style. He's a natural left-hander, but switched to right-handed snapping to make it more comfortable for his quarterback. Now he does shot-gun snaps with his left hand and under-center snaps with his right hand.
"It's really not that much of a complication," Stone said. "The ball will come naturally to (Bray) under center, but I'll be comfortable snapping the gun."
Dooley has cautiously praised Stone's start to camp.
"He's done well," Dooley said. "We haven't had many balls on the ground. He's been snapping it very consistently."
Still, Dooley said, that consistency needs to be demonstrated every day: "We want to measure it over the course of camp."
The decision, when it's made, will be easier because both Stone and Bullard are versatile enough to play more than one position.
"(Bullard) is a little bit like James as far as his body type," Dooley said. "We've worked James at all three. We've worked Alex at center and guard, and we've worked him at tackle the last couple of days to see if he could be that guy. The more guys you have like that, the better."
Tackles Antonio "Tiny" Richardson and Ju'Wuan James and guards Dallas Thomas and Zach Fulton worked with the first group Saturday and are favorites to win the starting job. But changes at center could shake up the rest of the line.
"We're still looking for our best five linemen," Dooley said. "The encouraging thing is we feel like we have got a much bigger pool to find the best five. If we've got six, we'll find a way to get six in there. If we've got seven, we'll find a way to do that."