James Stone, Alex Bullard in battle to start at center

Dooley answers questions about the Vols' offense

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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."

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat

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Comments » 20

nocleats writes:

Hopefully, both have increased their core strength over last year.. One of the 2, I wont name names, was thrown backwards in the air on more than one occassion last year, and looked like he had roller skates on when run blocking.. Thats not technique or heart folks, thats strength or lack of it

nocleats writes:

Hope the meanest nastiest dirtiest cheapest toughest wins out!

volvann writes:

This is really good... Rather than worrying about bringing players from the scout team to play line UT will have depth. No matter who wins the starting job, that means there are exceptionally good players waiting to give the starters a breather. The last 2 years there was no breather, which is why the Vols had issues in the second half. That alone is another reason why the run blocking was weak. Will not be the same story this year. Can't wait 27 more days, the dome curse will be removed this year.......

Section A, Row 43, Seats 28-29, the hottie next to me is my wife...

BolivrBob writes:

On paper, his is an excellent line, capable of opening up big holes for runners. All these guys were sought after by just about everybody. There is no excuse for us not to have a good running game.

FWBVol writes:

in response to nocleats:

Hopefully, both have increased their core strength over last year.. One of the 2, I wont name names, was thrown backwards in the air on more than one occassion last year, and looked like he had roller skates on when run blocking.. Thats not technique or heart folks, thats strength or lack of it

The problem with a lot of linemen, on both sides of the ball, coming out of high school is they have always been able to get by with being the biggest kid on the field. Even though they might have been one of the strongest players on the high school field that doesn't equate to them being as strong as guys that are juniors or seniors in college.

Dooley admitted that Stone wasn't as strong as a quality SEC O-lineman when he arrived on campus. But after Kiffin ran off a few offensive linemen that Fulmer had on the roster and failed to sign any in 2009, Dooley was left scrambling to start kids that should have been redshirted or at least had a chance to gain experience as a backup rather being thrown into the starting fires as a freshman or sophomore.

VFL_Troll_Patrol writes:

Lets go vols!
Get pumped up with the help of my NEW UT video!

"Shock The World" (Volunteer dubstep mix)

http://www.youtube.com/user/BudrayJef...

*Im always watching*
*Shock the world*

BluezVol writes:

In my opinion this is the key issue of the whole team. Yes, I think Bray, WRs and RBs can be very good. But as we've learned over and over the key is in the line. If we don't solidify this situation with these highly sought after guys coming out of high school, our season is headed into serious trouble. THIS MUST BE THE TOP PRIORITY IMO. I'm sure CDD and other coaches know this all too well.

orange_eVOLution writes:

Crowder still needs at least 15 more pounds of muscle. I think he will be our next great center.

GO VOLS!!

crappieking writes:

Stone was terrible last year.

nocleats writes:

in response to crappieking:

Stone was terrible last year.

Strength

SouthPaVol writes:

as a lefty, it irked me somewhat that the O line coach forced Stone to snap right handed. What a stupid idea, to think a person can just start doing something with the other hand and there not be a problem. Why! Try something as simple as eating with the other hand and see if you don't poke yourself in the nose with the fork!

My left-handed thought: Stone is a great athlete and a fine center. He was good as a freshman and will be good this year, if he beats out Bullard for the starting position. May the best man prevail. Go Vols!

laraccoon writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

as a lefty, it irked me somewhat that the O line coach forced Stone to snap right handed. What a stupid idea, to think a person can just start doing something with the other hand and there not be a problem. Why! Try something as simple as eating with the other hand and see if you don't poke yourself in the nose with the fork!

My left-handed thought: Stone is a great athlete and a fine center. He was good as a freshman and will be good this year, if he beats out Bullard for the starting position. May the best man prevail. Go Vols!

the key is to start with something more simple. first you learn to pick your nose with the other hand and when you have mastered that you try the fork .

pingkr62 writes:

in response to BluezVol:

In my opinion this is the key issue of the whole team. Yes, I think Bray, WRs and RBs can be very good. But as we've learned over and over the key is in the line. If we don't solidify this situation with these highly sought after guys coming out of high school, our season is headed into serious trouble. THIS MUST BE THE TOP PRIORITY IMO. I'm sure CDD and other coaches know this all too well.

It's nice to hear someone other than myself say this. Thanks. G.B.O.!!!

DufusMcGee writes:

Who is the strongest in the weight room: Bullard, Stone, or Crowder?

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to VFL_Troll_Patrol:

Lets go vols!
Get pumped up with the help of my NEW UT video!

"Shock The World" (Volunteer dubstep mix)

http://www.youtube.com/user/BudrayJef...

*Im always watching*
*Shock the world*

Cool vid. I think we may finally have the roster to take care of that 7th maxim.

RememberWhen writes:

WTF???!! Year 3 and Doofus is still trying to find a center that doesn't roll it back there??? ain't that progress now.....

AllforTenn writes:

in response to RememberWhen:

WTF???!! Year 3 and Doofus is still trying to find a center that doesn't roll it back there??? ain't that progress now.....

Rather stupid post. In your mind maybe you could do better.

VolGrad writes:

Trolls Obsessing Over Tennessee. It's really a sad thing to see. :D

Go Vols! Beat the Pack!!!

brokendownoldvol writes:

Starting Stone at center last yr. was as big a mistake he has every made. Almost as big as starting Simms over Bray his first yr. A good coach puts the best players in the game. Those two decisions alone cost Dooley several games. IMO

VOLFAN4LIFEgovols writes:

in response to BluezVol:

In my opinion this is the key issue of the whole team. Yes, I think Bray, WRs and RBs can be very good. But as we've learned over and over the key is in the line. If we don't solidify this situation with these highly sought after guys coming out of high school, our season is headed into serious trouble. THIS MUST BE THE TOP PRIORITY IMO. I'm sure CDD and other coaches know this all too well.

Well I agree its a key issue but the main issue the vols need to address is the defense,which wasnt that good last year and doesnt help one of the top defensive players is gone to the NFL. The secondary really has to step up this year cause thats the most important positions running the 3-4. So im more concerned with the secondary and lack of depth with LB'S. The 3-4 is very difficult to fully learn the 1st year.I hope Sal can pull it off.

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