John Adams: Daniel McCullers working toward big things

John Adams
Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson (45) dodges a playful swipe by defensive lineman Gregory Clark (93) as defensive linemen Daniel McCullers (98) and Allan Carson (69) look on during media day at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson (45) dodges a playful swipe by defensive lineman Gregory Clark (93) as defensive linemen Daniel McCullers (98) and Allan Carson (69) look on during media day at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Devrin Young turned a 5-yard pass into a 72-yard touchdown in Friday's scrimmage. That's probably the second most memorable play of the preseason for the Tennessee running back.

The play that mattered more didn't get close to the end zone. It ended in a bear hug at the line of scrimmage.

The man doing the hugging was Big Dan, the 6-foot-6, 362-pound junior college defensive tackle more formally known as Daniel McCullers.

"It was a normal up-the-middle power play," the 5-foot-8 Young said of the David-Goliath encounter. "Big Dan broke through there. Normally, I make a cut and bounce outside."

But this play was anything but normal. As Young slipped, McCullers had an open shot at the smallest player on the UT offense. He didn't take it, though.

"He just gave me a bear hug," Young said. "He showed some love."

After practice, Young offered a thank-you in return.

"He just giggled and walked off," Young said with a smile.

McCullers recalls the play as well. Even in the heat the moment, he remembers resisting the instinctive urge to level a running back.

"We need him," McCullers explained.

His first encounter with the local media went well Saturday afternoon. He's soft-spoken, polite and patient about all the size-related questions that surely have come his way at each level of football.

He punctuates almost every answer with "sir," which might be a carryover from his junior college days at Georgia Military Academy. Or perhaps, it's just a team thing. You hear "sir" a lot from these guys.

For a player who can't help but stand out for obvious reasons, McCullers seems to be fitting in well with his teammates.

"I'm getting comfortable," he said. "Hanging around this team a lot, they're all cool. Everybody is treating me nice."

Why wouldn't they? McCullers has plenty to offer a team that seems united in its quest for redemption, following the 5-7 season of 2011. He's threatening to win a starting position as the anchor in UT's new 3-4 front after impressing his teammates and coaches throughout preseason.

"I've never seen a guy that size be mobile like that," Young said. "As soon as he gets better technique-wise, the sky is the limit for him."

Fan expectations are already soaring for McCullers. One reporter relayed them to defensive line coach John Palermo, saying that fans are projecting McCullers as an All-SEC-type player.

"My expectation is he will be that individual at some point," Palermo said. "But we've still got a lot of work to do."

That shouldn't discourage McCullers, who has been working hard toward this for a long time.

McCullers was a junior at Southeast Raleigh (N.C.) High School when he first realized he was a college football prospect. The interest from college coaches became an incentive for studying. But no amount of studying could make up for what he didn't do his first two years of high school. Junior college became his best option.

Georgia Military Academy wasn't just any junior college. It was waking up at 5 a.m., marching, saluting, studying, practicing football and going to study hall.

Military discipline alone wouldn't make him a major-college football player. McCullers had to lose weight — a lot of weight.

Since last spring, he has gone from 390 to 362. His goal is 350, which he last saw on a set of scales when he was a freshman in high school.

Losing weight hasn't been easy. But playing football at 390 pounds wasn't easy, either. He remembers how winded he would be after playing just four consecutive downs.

"I feel like I'm in good shape right now," he said.

He might not know how good until the season opener. He also knows something else will be different when practice gives way to a game and he gets a clear shot at running back who isn't a teammate.

"He's going to the ground hard," McCullers said.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 42

CoverOrange writes:

He's not "Big Dan", John. He is an Ent. Call him "Treebeard."

Rumblefish writes:

Green Mile

GiveHim6TDTennessee writes:

Still have my old John Henderson jersey from the good ol days. Needless to say, that jersey will be coming back out.

steamboatticket#484773 writes:

"He's going to the ground hard," Tackle Dan

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Scary thought for an enemy running back........seeing a bit of daylight then
at second glance, there looms big Dan in front of him. Best alternative is to maybe do as a lot of quarterbacks, just slide to the turf.........and live.

BolivrBob writes:

Go Vols! Beat State!

Classof72 writes:

Big Mac.

UTbassdrummer writes:

I love that his explanation for not tackling Devrin was "we need him." That is SO ominous.

READY FOR THE PAIN TRAIN! THESE ARE THE LONGEST 2 WEEKS OF THE YEAR.

midnite__VOL writes:

Things that make you go hmmmmmmmmmm...Mr McCullers first game as a Vol is against his hometown college NC State.

txvolsfan writes:

Glad to finally have size back on our lines and physical linemen. I like this team and just hope that it translates into wins this fall!!!

GO VOLS

TXVOLSFAN

Huttdawg100 writes:

in response to Rumblefish:

Green Mile

The Green Mile might be the coolest nickname ever bestowed on a Vol.

McCullers is gonna make a big difference. We haven't had this type of size and strength on our defensive line since 2001 with Haynesworth and Henderson clogged up holes. He's been wrecking shop all camp, and rumor has it, he destroyed Bourque with a devastating blow. If your team is weak up front, I'd be very worried. NC State won't know what hit 'em.

Barneyvol writes:

Manhandler McCullers

keepitreal4vols writes:

Ton DMC

That dirty Will Muschamp might smell defeat and order a Code Red on Dan's knees, Watch out.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Classof72:

Big Mac.

Gigantic Mac..lol

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

The Green Mile might be the coolest nickname ever bestowed on a Vol.

McCullers is gonna make a big difference. We haven't had this type of size and strength on our defensive line since 2001 with Haynesworth and Henderson clogged up holes. He's been wrecking shop all camp, and rumor has it, he destroyed Bourque with a devastating blow. If your team is weak up front, I'd be very worried. NC State won't know what hit 'em.

NCSt has a veteran offensive line. The only area on offense where they are weak is at WR. If the Vols can apply enough pressure with the improved D-line that State's rookie WRs don't have enough time to get open, the Vols could win big. There are also several ways the Vols could get beat. This game will be the major indicator for how the whole season will go.

69grad writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

Ton DMC

That dirty Will Muschamp might smell defeat and order a Code Red on Dan's knees, Watch out.

Very good point. Muskchump is that type of coach.

UTByrd writes:

He's just a big Teddy Bear...with a 27 acre body.
I am sooooo looking forward to the start of this season. I reserve the right to remain "cautiously optimistic".
Go VOLS!!!!!

BigBadVol writes:

in response to steamboatticket#484773:

"He's going to the ground hard," Tackle Dan

I love it!

TheVolSnake writes:

Here is an article on the 3-4 and a photo of haw big Mac is.

http://generalneyland.wordpress.com/

I feel sorry for the QB and Center when they come to the line the first time and see him up close and personal. (They may need to call a time out and clean out their shorts.)

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

in response to UTbassdrummer:

I love that his explanation for not tackling Devrin was "we need him." That is SO ominous.

READY FOR THE PAIN TRAIN! THESE ARE THE LONGEST 2 WEEKS OF THE YEAR.

On another site, it was reported this was one factor in Bourque leaving. Besides the coordinator getting in his face, Bourque was leveled once or twice by the D. I believe it was McCullers.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

in response to TheVolSnake:

Here is an article on the 3-4 and a photo of haw big Mac is.

http://generalneyland.wordpress.com/

I feel sorry for the QB and Center when they come to the line the first time and see him up close and personal. (They may need to call a time out and clean out their shorts.)

Is the guy next to McCullers really a smurf? Daniel takes up 3-4 yards of running space just standing!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Release the Kraken!!

Squid_Vol writes:

I like either Big Mac or Greenmile...but Greenmile does have more schtick.

If accurate, I love that the Vols are punctuating sentences with 'Sir'...discipline, respect, attitude...man am I looking forward to this season...

GBO!

spvol writes:

Let's "Own the Dome". Twice this year. First against NC State; then against the West Division champ. GBO

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Release the Kraken!!

Love it!

CoverOrange writes:

in response to Squid_Vol:

I like either Big Mac or Greenmile...but Greenmile does have more schtick.

If accurate, I love that the Vols are punctuating sentences with 'Sir'...discipline, respect, attitude...man am I looking forward to this season...

GBO!

What I don't like about "Green Mile" is first, it is the wrong color and second, it actually is the description of the floor in the prison rather than the man-mountain prisoner in the story.

But we don't get to choose nicknames out here on the periphery.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to johnlg00:

NCSt has a veteran offensive line. The only area on offense where they are weak is at WR. If the Vols can apply enough pressure with the improved D-line that State's rookie WRs don't have enough time to get open, the Vols could win big. There are also several ways the Vols could get beat. This game will be the major indicator for how the whole season will go.

Hey, John, are they weak at WR because they lost a couple of star players from last year and the back-ups weren't any good or because they are inexperienced and we really don't know how good they are? I'm just saying an unknown can go either way, good or bad.

BigOrangeFever76 (Inactive) writes:

He also knows something else will be different when practice gives way to a game and he gets a clear shot at running back who isn't a teammate.

"He's going to the ground hard," McCullers said.

Holy Moly...if that does not get you fired up for the season, you cannot be fired up!

OrangePsyched writes:

Danzilla will put the hurt on some RB's this year. With him Couch and Sentimore this DL has the potential to be disruptive. Then sound the Air Raid siren as the offense takes the field. Smells like victory to me.

thevoice writes:

This kid has an infectious attitude. Probably a neat/fun guy to hang with and a great teammate. Get 'em Dan!

BolivrBob writes:

in response to johnlg00:

NCSt has a veteran offensive line. The only area on offense where they are weak is at WR. If the Vols can apply enough pressure with the improved D-line that State's rookie WRs don't have enough time to get open, the Vols could win big. There are also several ways the Vols could get beat. This game will be the major indicator for how the whole season will go.

Glennon will be mostly throwing to his backs and slot receivers. Don't sell O'brien short, he's a great coach. He says this is his best offensive line since leaving BC. Their secondary may be the best in the country. This is going to be a tough game. If we can win with some daylight, it will be a wonderful sign of things to come. If we can play defense we can play with ANYBODY. McCullers playing well will be paramount; and good secondary play. My favorite, btw, is Mount McCullers

Scoon writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Release the Kraken!!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

That was awesome..Thx, Scooner..

PUL4VOLS writes:

It ought to be good. I am looking forward to seeing that first opposing back go down hard. This young man wants to play. I love it.

Bogytrain writes:

Mount McCullers

AtLannaVol writes:

in response to Bogytrain:

Mount McCullers

It's McCullers that will be doing the mounting:)

CrankE writes:

Do we really want a nickname that associates a player with a prison movie (Green Mile)?

I'm partial to "Shade Tree".

Or "Sir". Sir works just fine for me, Mister 6-6, 362 pound dude.

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to BolivrBob:

Glennon will be mostly throwing to his backs and slot receivers. Don't sell O'brien short, he's a great coach. He says this is his best offensive line since leaving BC. Their secondary may be the best in the country. This is going to be a tough game. If we can win with some daylight, it will be a wonderful sign of things to come. If we can play defense we can play with ANYBODY. McCullers playing well will be paramount; and good secondary play. My favorite, btw, is Mount McCullers

NC State Head Coach Tom O'Brien Coach O'Brien feels their O-Line is the best it's been since he arrived in Raleigh. Stating, their big like NFL players I had at Boston College. On the surface, that sounds really good when you consider the great offensive lines O'Brien's Boston College teams had. Digging a little deeper, you will see the best line he has had at State (2008) only averaged 3.6 yards per carry and gave up 29 sacks.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Hey, John, are they weak at WR because they lost a couple of star players from last year and the back-ups weren't any good or because they are inexperienced and we really don't know how good they are? I'm just saying an unknown can go either way, good or bad.

One never knows about talent one has never seen, but their leading returning WR has 16 career catches. As a group, they are very much an unknown quantity, even in Raleigh, as I hear it. I suspect NCSt will try to run the ball and throw short unless someone just breaks loose. For one thing, they will try to keep the Vol offense on the sidelines so the game won't turn into a shootout. IMHO, if both teams score more than four TDs, the Vols win. If NCSt. wins, the score will be more like 21-17 or lower.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BolivrBob:

Glennon will be mostly throwing to his backs and slot receivers. Don't sell O'brien short, he's a great coach. He says this is his best offensive line since leaving BC. Their secondary may be the best in the country. This is going to be a tough game. If we can win with some daylight, it will be a wonderful sign of things to come. If we can play defense we can play with ANYBODY. McCullers playing well will be paramount; and good secondary play. My favorite, btw, is Mount McCullers

No way I'm selling NCSt and O'Brien short! He has not had a really outstanding record in Raleigh, but the 'Pack has always been dangerously unpredictable. I think the Vols have a better team overall, but this will be a real test for them. This is the kind of game they have to win to show that they are on the way back, but I certainly don't expect a walkover.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to CrankE:

Do we really want a nickname that associates a player with a prison movie (Green Mile)?

I'm partial to "Shade Tree".

Or "Sir". Sir works just fine for me, Mister 6-6, 362 pound dude.

I hear you! Why don't we just ask him what HE wants to be called and just go with that! I surely wouldn't want to be known as the guy who picked a nickname he didn't like(;-P).

Colliervol writes:

What's amazing to me is that he is carrying very little fat at 360 pounds. He is 6-6 but still, you'd expect some spare tire. I don't see any. Scary looking dude. Not sure I'd want to be a center on this schedule and have to tangle with him all game long. He'll probably be double teamed all game but that's a plus. We haven't had anybody on the D-Line since Albert Haynesworth that merited a double team.

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