SEC MEDIA DAYS: Phillip Fulmer - Tennessee

Coach Phillip Fulmer of the Tennessee Volunteers was second in line Thursday morning at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Fulmer's Vols went 5-6 a year ago in what the veteran coach called an "aberration" of a season. Linemen Arron SEars and Justin Harrell accompanied Fulmer.

COACH FULMER: Good morning. Moved right along this morning. I appreciate everybody, the reception we received. Birmingham for these media days is always kind of the kick-off, I think, to the upcoming season. This time of year, as you look forward to the season, it's always a fun time.

We are obviously coming off of a little bit of an untypical type Tennessee football season. Excited about what's out there in the future as our kids have worked really diligently and hard in the off-season, spring practice, during the course of the summer.

We actually moved spring practice back a couple of weeks so we had a longer off-season program. Had some significant injuries, surgeries, those kind of things, that we wanted to be sure we were ready for the fall. Also, as I said, after spring practice to the guys in Knoxville, that it was a time for young people -- and we're a very young football team in a lot of ways -- can work like heck to change their bodies. Our kids have done that. Really watching them work. Have done a good job with preparing themselves physically for the season.

Our motto right now, thought process, is that we want to be a fired up and focused and well-prepared football team as we go into this new season. Obviously a lot of new challenges, as is the case every year, when you graduate guys, that sort of thing. But with those challenges also come some new opportunities for us. We've got an opportunity to get ourselves back on track.

I've always looked at myself by nature as an optimist, but I'm also, I think, certainly a realist. I do realize that we have a number of challenges with this team that we need to do. As I said, we have worked really hard to overcome those problems that we have.

The energy is good on our campus right now. Our kids, I think, along with all the Tennessee people, are very upset, starting with me, about the way the season went last year. Have been real focused, as I said, on trying to get those things turned around during the course of the year.

A lot of talk about the expectations at Tennessee, a lot of questions about that. When I took over as the head football coach, I felt like there was another level we could get to. We worked like heck to get to that level, and I think have raised the expectations at Tennessee. I think five of the last nine -- we've been a part of five of the last nine eastern championships, a couple SEC championship games along the way there. I think we certainly have a handle on how to manage the expectations there at Tennessee.

We have, in a lot of ways I think, answered the bell from the off-season standpoint of not having the distractions that we had a year ago. It was a very untypical year for us from the standpoint of having a lot of things off the field that definitely took away from our season.

Trying to do an audit of all the things last year, probably didn't have enough time to go that everything, but certainly it starts with accountability from us as coaches. We made some changes to try to try to correct that. Look forward to seeing how that continues to work out.

Obviously, quarterback play last year was not nearly what we thought. We all saw the potential of a young Erik Ainge as a freshman that led us to the Eastern Division Championship. Certainly looking back I could have managed that differently. Hindsight is 20/20. Either named him as a starter in the spring or let him compete in the fall. Maybe he doesn't win the job till the fourth, fifth ballgame, or maybe not at all. I would have, looking back, managed that differently. Obviously injuries, the schedule, a lot of things went into last season.

But this day, this time with you guys, kind of is the last in my way of looking at it of the remnants of last year, get all that behind us and go from there.

As I said, we had a very intense physical spring practice. During the course of the summer, our kids have worked really, really hard. We've had basically a distraction-free summer. A couple of things came up, we handled really quickly, really firmly. Our kids understand that being at Tennessee, a school like Tennessee, is a privilege and not a right. I'm proud of the way that they've managed themselves in the off-season.


Q. With the rule changes, coach's challenge, timeout left to use it, clock starts at the start of a possession, if you're behind in the fourth quarter, you better hurry up this year, hadn't you, with all the changes?

COACH FULMER: You really do with the ready-for-play changes. We've discussed that a number of times as a staff. You still have the 12 to 14 seconds that the SEC officials normally will give you to get the defense on the field, the offense on the field. But it's still a challenge.

It's going to make a difference. You're going to lose some plays in the game. Some of the records that are out there, if you're losing 12 to 15 plays a game, you know, likely won't be nearly as easily broken. Those kind of things, it will definitely make a difference.

The ready for play is probably as significant a change as has been made in some time in our game.

Q. Could you talk about how you expect Erik Ainge to develop under Cutcliffe's tutelage?

COACH FULMER: We all saw Erik as a freshman out there just playing outstanding football. We didn't overburden him with a lot. He was times even managing things at the line of scrimmage that was coming from the bench.

I saw that comfort level again in the spring. He's not there a hundred percent yet. But the first thing he has to do is earn the confidence of his teammates. I've watched in the off-season, in the weight room. He's leading the sprints. He's working like heck. Every time the door is open, he's staying extra, he's doing all the things that win the confidence of your teammates.

Then he's got to play within the system. There will be plenty of opportunities for big plays. He felt -- in the pressure last year to stay on the field, he had to make big things happen. That was the wrong way to look at things. He had to play within the system.

David is, obviously with the track record he's had, is the finest quarterback coach that I've ever been around. But at the same time is a comfort level to the guys that he's coaching. He has a real calming effect with them, knows where to pull the triggers and what to ask them to do. I'm really encouraged about David being back for all those reasons.

Q. You mentioned when you took over, you felt like the program could get to another level, you guys worked hard to get it there. Is the program still there and last year was an aberration, or do you feel like you have some work to get back to that level again?

COACH FULMER: I think last year was an aberration, but we still have a lot of work to do to get back to where we want to be. I don't think you're just going to flip a switch and say, Oh, we're going to be back there. The goal is always to be in the championship mix. We have a group of talented young players that if we play up to our expectations and our abilities, then I think we have a chance to make a run at it again. We've got to throw it and catch it. Our runningbacks have got to be healthy, run the football, all the things with the offensive front, the defensive team, kicking game. All those things have to come together.

It's not like we're all of a sudden void of talent. Looking at last year and trying to always learn whether you have a great year or a year like last year, which I do think was an aberration, I think there's a lot to learn from each season. Each team will have its own personality. Hopefully this team will have a personality of toughness and being physical. I believe that we're on the right track to do that.

In this league, only a few plays are going to make a big difference in the ballgame, a big difference in the season. That's what happened to us last year. In the years past, we had made most of those plays. Last year we didn't make those plays and/or we gave up plays that allowed somebody else to win the game.

Q. A lot of times coaches say there's unfair expectations placed on certain players. With Coach Cutcliffe coming back, are there unfair expectations on him to suddenly solve every problem that y'all had last year on offense?

COACH FULMER: On David? Yeah, I don't think anybody -- I mean, that's another area that we have focused on all off-season, spring practice and summer. It's not about individual players, it's not about individual coaches. It's about playing as a football team and everybody maximizing their ability, whether you're the first team quarterback or tailback or defensive tackle or you're the third team left guard. Everybody has a role to play to the fullest.

Certainly that was part of our issue last year, whether it be off-the-field issues or guys thinking about the National Football League or guys thinking about being All-American, whatever it might have been. We don't have that attitude right now. Our attitude right now is, as I said, fired up and focused and prepared to be a good team, not a good group of individuals but a good team.

Q. When you talk about disciplinary issues in general, do you think in your coaching tenure, have you changed or have the players changed?

COACH FULMER: You know, I think what we all deal with, whether it be in athletics or whether it be in our school systems or our professional worlds that we might come from, there's been some change in society. I know I go into more single-parent homes than I've ever gone into in my life. I'm not trying to give you a long answer to a good question. But it's a complicated societal issue now.

Leading up to last year, we had, I think, done very well with those kind of things. Last year was a complete melt down from a standpoint of guys, as I said earlier, feeling like it was a privilege to be a part of the program instead of a right.

All that we can do is monitor and encourage and discipline and those kind of things. If a young person's been in different things for the first 18 years of his life, you're not going to all of a sudden change him once he gets to campus right away. Hopefully as they mature and understand more, they will do much better.

The other thing to remember, and I always say this, and I don't think people really listen to it, is just a few, one or two or three guys can bring, in any school, terrible exposure to a group of a hundred other guys that are doing the right things, whether it be academically or socially or whatever. It's unfortunate, but it's the way of the world now, that the negative ends up getting so much more coverage and credence than all the positive things that can be done by young people that are out there trying to be good citizens, trying to be good students, preparing themselves for life through the college experience.

There's a lot more of that than there are of the negative.

Q. Can you talk about the immediate effect of David on Erik Ainge and your offense. What did you see right away that maybe you hadn't seen before?

COACH FULMER: Well, you know, I think sometimes people think you've got this magic dust that you're just going to go out there and sprinkle on an offense or a defense or a punter or kicker or coach or whatever, and everything's just going to be perfect. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time over a period of time for things to change.

What David brings is a really sound fundamental system to coach the quarterbacks and to run the offense that's been proven over a period of time. Not that we're going to be the same as we were last year or the years past, but there will be elements of being able to run the football, being able to throw the ball down the field, being able to take care of the football, to understand that a punt is a good thing. That's the largest change of yardage usually in a game. Change 35 to 40 yards at a time. Playing field position, all those things.

David brings all that and a lot of credibility with the guys that he's coached and the successes that they've had at Tennessee and at Ole Miss. Again, a long answer to a short question, but that's the truth.

Q. How different is the style of play in the league now than it was in the mid '90s when people were throwing it all over the place? Are you seeing new trends developing especially offensively in the league?

COACH FULMER: You know, of course when Steve Spurrier came to Florida, I think he changed the league a lot. We watched that happen over a period of time. Not that other people hadn't thrown the ball very well, those kind of things, but it definitely changed.

Everybody was chasing them for a while. Then we kind of became the team that everybody was chasing there for a while. It keeps evolving.

I think it just goes back to being able to be efficient and score enough points. The defenses this day and age have gotten so sophisticated that you're kind of in a cycle right now offensively of trying to figure out how to make a first down, how to make sure you're playing the game to help you win, not lose chunks of yards, that kind of thing.

The spread and those kind of things are new dimension to attack and make defenses have to play defense again rather than be the aggressor. It's very interesting as all this evolves, where can you go and what can your quarterback do? That's the question. That's the big thing that we're going through right now.

Our goal is to make a -- I don't know if I'm answering your question or not. I think I am (laughter). Our goal is to use the entire field and make the defense have to play defense for the entire field.

Now, can we do that with screens and reverses and those kind of things with three, four, or even five-wides? Just depends on our personnel and how our quarterback can handle it.

The goal right now offensively is to make the defense play defense again and take some of the aggressiveness away from them as you play down after down.

Q. Can you talk about two of your younger players, linebacker Rico McCoy and center Josh McNeil.

COACH FULMER: Both of those guys could easily end up being starters for us at some point during the course of the year. Josh, unfortunately, came there with a high school injury. After, I guess a couple weeks of two-a-days, had to have a very significant shoulder surgery and was limited in spring practice. The last couple weeks of spring practice was able to participate some on a limited basis.

He definitely has the physical toughness and the athletic ability and those kind of things to be a really good player for us. We're expecting big things from Josh either short-term and certainly from the long-term.

Rico McCoy is one of those guys that is going to be around the football all the time. He had an injury in two-a-days, a real significant foot injury that required surgery, so he missed the entire season. Did have a lot of work this spring. If he continues to develop, I think he has a chance to be a really outstanding player for us.

Q. Have you found it harder to get to the top of the SEC or harder to stay there?

COACH FULMER: I think it's hard to do either one, to be honest with you (smiling).

Q. Give me the reasons why.

COACH FULMER: Well, as I said earlier, you kind of get that target on your back as you go through a period of time. People are hired to beat you, work their systems and schemes. Your team gets satisfied or assumes too much. I think that's one of the issues we had last year, we just kind of assumed that things were going to work out great. Both of them are hard. To get to the top of the SEC, I mean, truthfully -- and having done it -- it's easier to play one game, win the national championship certainly than it is to go and win the SEC east, then win the SEC in the championship game.

Of course, you got to do all of that to compete for the national championship. Both of them are tough.

Q. What do you see in Quentin Hancock, his role this season, the potential for him at Tennessee?

COACH FULMER: You know, he's a freshman. He just got to campus. I think it would only be right to let him practice at least a couple days before I try to answer that question. We are excited about him. He's a really fine kid. Just from what the players say, he's picking up things quickly and maybe has a chance to help us some this year. We'll see. I don't have any idea right now.

Q. Your team seemed to exceed expectations a lot of times. 2004, the national championship season. First of all, why do you think that occurs? Secondly, you mentioned you want to develop a personality of toughness. Have you seen that over the spring and the summer to make you think that can happen again?

COACH FULMER: We went into spring practice with a definite plan. Fortunately we came through it -- we only lost one kid in spring practice to a shoulder injury that will affect this year. We had 737 scrimmage snaps during the course of spring practice. A young football team that needed to work like heck to get better. Really the only way to do that is go 11 on 11.

I think we have established ourselves to a degree as a tougher football team than we were at any point last year. That part is encouraging.

Do we still have a lot of challenges yet? Absolutely. The youth at linebacker, seeing all those runningbacks overcome their surgeries and things -- which I think we're going to be fine with -- but establish a toughness within because they weren't there in the spring. They've got to get this during camp, during fall camp. An attitude of taking care of the football better than we did last year regardless is very crucial to us. Several phases of the kicking game, it's very crucial to us.

Q. What about exceeding expectations?

COACH FULMER: Expectations are always there at Tennessee. I mean, they were there when I took over. I think we did raise them as to what we expect. That was about the same time we started the divisional play when I took over. Whatever number of years that is, but five of the last nine we've won or tied for the east. I think we've done reasonably well.

Last year was a tremendous disappointment to everybody, starting with me. As I told the other folks in the other room, I've got a lot invested into this, half my life, with the University of Tennessee, as a player and as a coach. I'm not passing through there. Maybe there's somebody that wants to do it as much as me, but ain't nobody out there that wants to do it more than I do on a year-to-year basis.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about having to replace so many proven players among your defensive front seven?

COACH FULMER: We have more...

Q. How do you plan to replace so many of your front players on defense?

COACH FULMER: When I started at Tennessee, having been an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, I saw the teams that made the big runs in the Southeastern Conference were teams with great defensive lines. I dedicated myself to having defensive linemen. We had the Reggie Whites, a few other guys, obviously he was really great, but we hadn't had really nearly the consistency in our defensive front as some of the other teams in the conference.

We've worked hard to get the John Hendersons and Albert Haynesworths, the Leonard Littles, those guys that could turn plays around with the defensive front.

We graduated some good players in Parys Harrelson and Jason Hall and Jesse Mahelona, Jesse was All-American. Parys was, I think, an All-SEC player. Jason Hall was a great role player for us. It's going to be difficult to replace those guys.

As we've done it in the past, we tried to play a lot of defensive line year in and year out. Antonio Reynolds, Xavier Mitchell, Turk McBride, and JT Mapu is back from his Mormon mission, which is fantastic for us. Robert Ayers. We have guys that have played, they may not have started games, but it's not we're throwing some brand-new guys out there. I expect we'll be darn good up front.

The more problem area is at linebacker where we don't quite have the experience, and particularly with our schedule that we have early, they got to grow up fast, they got to figure it out. They're going to make some mistakes on the run.

But the defensive front, I expect us to be okay.

Q. How do you think Brent Schaeffer is going to do at Ole Miss, especially when you consider he's getting a late start, not on campus yet?

COACH FULMER: Brent is an outstanding athlete, football player. I certainly wish him well down there. He's a dynamic guy with his hands on the ball.

Q. What is your opinion on Internet message boards, the things that fans post on them?

COACH FULMER: You really want me to say? I don't know if I can say all that and you can print it (smiling).

You know, it's one of those things I think at this point where you just accept it as part of life and part of the world that we live in. It's not going to change. The ability to communicate worldwide now makes the world different. You either fight it, maybe I tried to a little while, but it's the way of the world.

I don't pay any attention to it. I don't worry about it. But it's certainly out there.

Q. You've talked about building those expectations over the years that you've been there. How tough was it for you and the coaching staff personally when things started to spiral? At what point, or was there a point, when you realized maybe this is just not going to be our year this year?

COACH FULMER: I guess when Jay Cutler hit that ball between two defenders standing there, thought we had him well-covered, Vanderbilt ended upsetting us in Knoxville, I thought, That's not a good thing (smiling).

You know, expectations are what they are, and I like it. I like the fact that we have great passion for our program and we have fans that really care. We're not the only one. Everybody in this conference is about the same way.

Our team, our coaches, you know, fought like heck last year, and in particular we go to LSU and win that game. At that point I say, all right, we're back on track here.

I described it in Knoxville after the season. I don't know if this is a good analogy or not, this is the way I felt, it was kind of like the perfect storm with the quarterback play, the injuries and the schedule, just a few plays here. I mean, I think we had a third and eight. We tied the score. We had a third and eight against Notre Dame. They called a play. It was obviously for man-to-man coverage; we were in zone. We had it perfectly stopped.

They caught a little under-route. Our guy slipped down. Our other safety was right there to make it. That was for a two-yard gain. The other guy was right there to make the tackle for a five-yard gain. Our two safeties ran together, both of them being aggressive, knocked each other down. He goes 73 yards for a touchdown.

It was that kind of year. Very, very frustrating.

My wife is a great coach's wife. I told some of the local guys this. She said, "Phillip, you're spoiled." We were talking about after the season. I guess in some ways, you know, I was. She said, "Sometimes to really enjoy the peaks, you've got to have a valley." I've had enough. I understand. I have a greater appreciation for things. Don't take anything for granted whatsoever, but I don't want another season like that one ever again.

I think it's one thing if somebody is just a lot better than you. That wasn't necessarily the case. It was our own things that caused our issues in a lot of cases.

Q. For a coach in this job, how much is dealing with the media these days? How do you go about dealing with the media? How has that changed over the years for you?

COACH FULMER: Well, I think early in my career I wasn't probably very good. I didn't know who to trust or how to communicate exactly. I think I'm still probably not the greatest, but I've become more comfortable with saying what I feel, those kind of things.

Most guys, if you deal with them openly and honestly, they're fine. They have a job to do. If you understand that, you try to work together, they're honest back to you, those kind of things, it's not bad.

Some guys you got to be careful of 'cause they got their own agenda. You know, I understand that, too.

Q. Another way of asking the same question, but you mentioned there was an assumption last year that maybe you guys would get it back during the season. How do you guard against the assumption you'll get it back this year just because you're Tennessee?

COACH FULMER: There's no guarantees. I mean, again, that magic dust. We'd like to sprinkle that magic dust and everything would be fine. We've got a lot of work to do. We're working like heck to correct those things that we can correct. We've got establish ourselves from a personality standpoint offensively. We have that defensively. We're No. 2 in the country in rush defense last year, No. 6 overall, something like that.

We got to get our toughness back offensively. Got to throw it and catch it. When people crowd the ball, that's what we've done. Those kind of things have to happen for us.

We've had our fair share of good fortune, I know that, during my career. It darn sure balanced itself out last year, so we're even. We want to get back on track.

Q. Out of the east in the SEC, one of the hardest conferences in the country, you have Georgia, you're hungry, want to redeem yourselves, Florida and South Carolina. On the west you got Auburn, LSU.

COACH FULMER: And Alabama.

Q. All of them really. Basically the question I'm asking you, who is the team you see as the team to beat in the SEC this year?

COACH FULMER: You know, we get asked that almost every year. That's impossible to predict. You just mentioned who the four in the east are. It's going to be one of those. Used to be three, now it's four. Any of those teams in the west. You take this conference from top to bottom, it could go to most leagues around the country and win it, the middle school could. It's tough.

I'm not saying the other conferences -- they're good, too. We're getting ready to play one of them from Cal that's really, really good. You study them on film during the course of the summer. Doesn't make for a great summer.

Q. You play the first four games of the season at home. Would you prefer to do it that way or prefer to have the home games spread evenly over the course of the schedule? Talk about how the California series game came about? Is that a home-on-home series with the Golden Bears?

COACH FULMER: I think the Cal game will be a good thing for us. Typically we've played a lot of those kind of games early in the year, whether it be Syracuse, UCLA, have some great rivalries. It typically has made our summer go very well as they look for a fast start.

The Florida game being that early is always tough. I think if we could choose, if you're asking me if I could choose, I'd like to play that one always at home and later in the year, but they're not going to let me do that (smiling).

First four at home, you know, Coach Dicky was a great athletic director and everything, I used to talk to him all the time about the schedule. I said, "You're going to be retired and I've got this schedule." That's about where we are.

It's tough, you know. I'd just as soon, with a young team this year, having those first four at home, I hope turns into an advantage for us. In some years I'd probably rather it be more spread out.

Q. How long after last season did it kind of take you to emotionally remove yourself from the season, because you're on this rollercoaster all year? How long did it take for you to step back and objectively look at it? Most of December? Usually you're getting ready for a Bowl.

COACH FULMER: Really it started before the last ballgame, to be honest with you, that obviously decisions had to be made. You'd like to have been able to soak on it for a while, really go through it. But well before the last ballgame, What in the heck is going on, how do we fix it. It was tough. It was a really, really tough off-season from that standpoint. 18 years since we hadn't been to a Bowl game. In 1988 when we didn't go, we won the championship in '89 and '90. Christmastime, you know, was really different. Christmas Eve was fine. We're always with our family and everything.

Christmas Day was -- it was good, Christmas morning. Usually that afternoon we're leaving or packing to leave or whatever. My wife said, "You got to get the heck out of this house. You're driving us crazy." It was that kind of December at least. We got through recruiting. Once we got into winter workouts, then spring practice, had our staff completely in place, it's just been really getting better since. Seeing the attitude of our kids, not having any off-the-field distractions, being very focused as a staff, as a team on what our challenges are, being around our kids, has been a real, real positive lift for me.

Q. Arron Sears has gotten a lot of pre-season recognition. Can you talk about his development over the last few years and about his role this season in terms of leadership?

COACH FULMER: He has a tremendous role as a leader. Arron is not the most vocal guy in the world. He's capable of leading with his actions and challenges the guys on the offensive team. That's one area on our offense that I am still concerned about, is who's going to take on those roles. Back when you had, say, a Peyton Manning, it was obvious who the leader was, or an Al Wilson on defense. There's ways to lead, whether you're vocal or whether you're not, that Arron has to take one of those roles.

We've had a lot of outstanding offensive linemen at Tennessee. Arron is as good as any of those guys. He is a talented football player. It's going to be very important for him to play and practice like the All-American he is.

Q. When did the Cal series get set? How many years ago? Have you noticed the off-season focus being better when you have a quality opponent like that to get the season started?

COACH FULMER: I'm not sure when it was set a hundred percent, Cal. Some time back. Most of our schedules are seven, eight, ten years out. Coach Tedford obviously has come in and really changed things there and done a great job with Cal's team.

I have a sense, and I've seen it over a number of years, when you play a team like that in the opener, the focus in the summer is a lot better. That's maybe just human nature. You'd like for it not to be that way, whoever you open with. I think with our situation coming off last year, the demands that are out there internally, and the opponent, all have made a difference for our outlook of things.

Q. What has it been like to have Coach Cutcliffe back on staff, his influence on the guys who hadn't played for him before?

COACH FULMER: Obviously, David has the great track record of having coached a number of really great quarterbacks. That helps, that he comes in with that kind of pedigree. Our 17 years together previous to him coming back to Tennessee is a real plus in that we understand each other very well.

His time as a head football coach I think certainly gives him a new perspective on the way to look at the big picture on both sides of the ball, the kicking game, the time management issues, all the issues that comes with being a head coach.

It's wonderful, you know. I don't know how many of you -- David was an outstanding coach here in Birmingham at Banks High School, I think was just coming off a championship season. We were friends. I mentioned to him about being a graduate assistant. He was, what, 26 years old, I guess, had kind of everything going for him at the high school level with his team and success. He had to sell his bass boat, sell his Cadillac, borrow money, I guess, to stay the course as a graduate assistant.

Moved up and coached -- helped me first with the offensive line, then became the quarterback coach. He has a great understanding and perspective of all levels. He's a fantastic friend, you know, as well. Great person.

Q. Has your athletic department dealt with the problems associated with, If so, what is the most dangerous things about those sites?

COACH FULMER: We have discussed those. I think the conference is coming out with some guidelines that are significant, I believe, for us to deal directly with our kids when everybody reports. We have talked to our kids for the last couple of years about representing themselves well if they're going to do them. We will be looking at the sites and monitoring them. So will future employers, those kind of things.

To my knowledge -- knock on wood -- I don't know of a significant problem that we've had. We have addressed it on a couple of occasions with a couple people in the athletic department, not necessarily with the football program.

It definitely deserves our attention and scrutiny.

Q. In the spring y'all moved David Ligon, who had started four games at center last year, moved him to guard. You have Michael Frogg as a walk-on listed on your depth chart at starting center. Will Frogg be on scholarship by the time the season begins? Do you see a trend in college football of holding back available scholarships to give to fourth- and fifth-year seniors who got high GPAs in order to keep your APR above 925?

COACH FULMER: First question, Michael Frogg will be on scholarship, has earned that. He will have a chance to compete for the starting position. As we ended spring, Josh McNeil not being a hundred percent, we felt like it was only fair he gets the first shot at the position.

David Ligon I think you were asking about. David is a guy that's played both center and guard for us, trying to get a look at the matchups of how particularly our first four or five games go, which are very important to us, he gives us the best chance to match up with those opponents. The other guard is a little bit more up in the air.

I do think that each year coaches are going to be working at making sure they manage the APR to the best of their ability. That's a very important thing if you do not want to lose scholarships. In the past you may have held those back to sign at midterm or sign maybe more the next year. I think a youngster that walks on your team and is in a position to contribute, like a Michael Frogg, and we had a number of other guys, they will be receiving those scholarships more handedly.

Not that anybody held back before, but more attention will be paid to them, absolutely. I don't think you can just give it to a guy because he has a high GPA. He has to be a contributor.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

COACH FULMER: Thank you.

Offensive Tackle Arron Sears

(On the offseason) "The offseason is going well. We are all getting back to the basics and working hard. Our strength coach, Johnny Long, doesn't care if he hurts our feelings. He tells us what we need to improve on, and we do it. I don't quite feel like a sprinter yet, but I am getting there."

(On this season) "California is a great team and that game is important to us. We have to be on top of our game. A loss for the first game would be devastating for us, especially after last year. We have a tough and talented team this year."

(On last season) "We learned that you can't take anything for granted. You have to do whatever you can to win. We have grown a lot from last season. We all just have to work together. It is on all of us and not just the quarterback. The offense has to tackle and be there for him."

Defensive Tackle Justin Harrell

(On role as a leader) "I am just trying to go out and prepare myself, trying to lead by example. There are a lot of young guys on the team and I am just trying to set an example."

(On the losing season and Coach being on the hot seat) "Tennessee is not used to a losing season. We have five or six bowl games and we are just trying to get back to winning."

(On last year's Alabama game) "It is always one of those games to circle on the calendar. We just can't worry about it now. We just have to look at California right now."

(On the California opener) "It is a going to be a big game. We just have to go about business. The first game is always a big thing. We know it is going to be a big game. People are going to be watching to see what we will bring."

(On the touchdown against Kentucky last season) "I came in as a tight end. Those days are over now. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and luckily did not have far to go."

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