Monday, August 27, 2007

Daily Times: Time to put up: Vols set to use skills at California

By John Brice

More than three weeks of camp, a handful of two-a-day practices and three major intrasquad scrimmages have left Tennessee players weary of battering one another.  Now, Phillip Fulmer knows his 15th-ranked Vols are ready for the next phase that comes with Saturday’s season-opener at No. 12 California (8 p.m. EDT, ABC). “At the beginning of year, you’re always very excited to play,” Fulmer said Sunday night during his weekly teleconference. “I’m anxious to see our football team on the field against somebody else. They are ready to play someone else after a demanding camp. The first game is always exciting, you’ve got butterflies of the unknown.” Both the Vols and Golden Bears should feel at ease with their quarterbacks, a comfort in direct contrast from last year’s game won 35-18 by UT. Tennessee’s Erik Ainge was coming off a disastrous 2005 season during which he was benched while Cal’s Nate Longshore battled two other signal callers throughout fall camp to earn the starting nod. “It’s a huge asset” to have a veteran quarterback, Fulmer said. “If you picked any one position every year that you hope to have experience, it’s at quarterback. We’ve kind of cycled up into a senior coming off a great year as a junior, and Erik has had tough times. He’s kind of experienced it all, really. He had a tough sophomore year, an exceptional freshman year. He’s played in and won big games. We’re excited that Erik’s here and doing well.”

After an inauspicious beginning a year ago, Longshore recovered to throw for 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.  “Offensively, their quarterback is just a really good player,” Fulmer said. “We could see his development as we watched last year’s games.” Longshore and the Cal offense also appear to have a luxury — dynamic wideout DeSean Jackson — last year enjoyed by Tennessee, which got a breakout performance from Robert Meachem. The 6-foot, 170-pound Jackson has garnered preseason All-America honors and been touted as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. “I think he’s just an outstanding football player all the way around,” Fulmer said of Jackson, who had more than 1,000 receiving yards and is an exceptional punt return specialist. “He’s long, physical, fast. He’s got it all.” The Vols, meanwhile, will have three new starters at wide receiver after Meachem departed early for the NFL and Jayson Swain and Bret Smith exhausted their eligibility. Austin Rogers, Josh Briscoe and Lucas Taylor are the first three wideouts, with junior college transfer Kenny O’Neal and freshman Denarius Moore completing UT’s likely rotation. “I think our receivers have taken the challenge of losing a great player like Robert Meachem and two other really good players like Jayson Swain and Bret Smith. They have kind of played with a chip on their shoulder, if you will.”

It is the way the Vols played against Cal in last year’s opener following the disappointment of 2005’s 5-6 campaign. “We want to first of all take care of Tennessee and be what we’re supposed to be,” Fulmer said. “Last year was a really good bounceback year for us. We started in spring, summer and all through camp being a better rushing team and run defending team. Things we could do something about with attitude, work ethic and mindset, regardless of who we’re playing. That’s the way we want to play.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Go Vols! Beat the cubs!!!