Rookie blockers

Tennessee could have three true freshmen in its starting offensive line this weekend.

Derek Dooley suggested today that freshman Zach Fulton is seriously challenging senior Jarrod Shaw for the first-team job at right guard as Saturday afternoon's game with UAB approaches.

"Zach Fulton is really pushing Shaw," the Vols' head man said.

If Fulton pushes Shaw out of the lineup, that will give the Big Orange three rookies in the blocking front.

Ja'Wuan James started each of the first three games at right tackle and is joined on the first unit this week by fellow freshman James Stone. Stone played the second half of Game 3 vs. Florida at left guard after redshirt freshman JerQuari Schofield suffered a broken bone in his left foot that is expected to sideline him for two to three games.

Cody Pope, who started Games 1 and 2 at center before missing Game 3 due to a concussion and a stinger, is not expected back in time for Game 4 vs. UAB. That means sophomore Darin Gooch will get his second consecutive start at center.

In addition to first-teamers Pope and Schofield, Tennessee may be without No. 3 center Carson Anderson, who suffered a concussion last weekend vs. Florida.

With Pope doubtful and Anderson somewhat questionable, Tennessee is down to one able body (Gooch) at center. Stone has worked at the position in practice but the prospect of using him there in a game creates a dilemma.

"James is our starting left guard right now," Dooley said, "so it would be hard for him to do both."

With Pope hurting, Anderson hurting and Stone starting at another position, Gooch essentially is the Vols' only option at center.

"Nobody else has ever snapped," Dooley noted. "I brought that up today - who's our third center - and the coaches laughed at me. I'm like 'It's not funny.'"

Ordinarily, the Vols could insert their No. 2 left guard into the lineup when Stone is filling in at center. There's one serious flaw in this plan, however.

"We don't really have a backup left guard or left tackle," Dooley said.

Even if Fulton doesn't start this weekend, he'll split time with Shaw at right guard.

"We're going to play Zach Fulton a lot," Dooley said. "He's playing better. So, half the game you're going to see three true freshmen (Fulton, James, Stone) and two sophomores (Gooch and Dallas Thomas).

"That's our offensive line. You'll see that half the game."

Given the incredible inexperience of this group, some growing pains are sure to be evident on Saturday. Dooley concedes as much.

"We've got to do a good job of developing a plan so they can go out there and function," the coach said. "If we do that we'll be OK.

"I can't get 'em experience without playing 'em."

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