UT's Daniel McCullers says he has to step up to the plate
Butch Jones joked earlier this week that for all of Daniel McCullers’ progress since his arrival at Tennessee, it was still difficult to get the big man to say more than five words.
So let it be said that during interviews on Friday night after Tennessee’s first practice of training camp, McCullers had several sentences that ran for eight, nine, even 10 words.
McCullers’ reticence is understandable, given that he is quizzed exhaustively about his weight every time he faces the media.
You would clam up, too.
But on Friday, after a summer of positive steps, the senior defensive tackle could share much happier news.
McCullers is down to 352 pounds, a weight he thinks is lower than at any time since high school. His goal is to drop another 10 or so by the end of camp.
The lost weight has done more than boost McCullers’ confidence. It’s made him more nimble and mobile on the field.
A year after the Vols asked McCullers to do little more than plug the hole in the middle of the line, the new coaching staff is heaping responsibilities on the soft-spoken senior.
“We’ll be as good as Dan McCullers goes,” Jones said on Wednesday. “It is what it is.”
In 2012, McCullers was seen as a novelty, and the expectations were appropriately minimal. He couldn’t play for long stretches without huffing and puffing, and coaches kept his responsibilities simple.
“It was an OK season,” McCullers said. “It wasn’t who I wanted to be.”
McCullers said he didn’t seriously considered going to the NFL.
“I knew I had to come back,” he said. “I had a lot more learning to do.”
Now he’s playing primarily at the three-technique tackle spot, which means he won’t be lined up over the center like a nose guard. He’ll still have to stop the run, but applying a pass rush will be an important part of the game.
That has made the weight loss essential. He hovered near — but never over, he says — 400 pounds for much of his junior college career.
He’s still a large man, but even with just 50 pounds shaved off his frame, he looks firmer and less pudgy. His face even seems tighter.
“I think Dan has had a great summer strength and conditioning season. He looks great,” Jones said. “We talk all the time. I’m excited for him because he’s worked himself into having that opportunity to really make an impact.”
Wielding a practice microphone, Jones would ride McCullers throughout spring ball, urging him to run faster and push harder.
On Friday’s first day of fall practice, the teasing was noticeably absent.
McCullers said he’s grown accustomed to aggressive tactics from coaches determined to turn his promise into production and mold him into a star.
It’s only Day 1, and despite the confidence of his coaches, McCullers was adamant that he hasn’t arrived yet.
“I haven’t won them over at all,” he said. “We all have got a long process before us. We know that.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.