Right-hand man

His new job is a snap but it isn't easy by any means.

That apparent contradiction actually applies quite accurately to Tennessee sophomore center James Stone. A natural left-hander, he is working at learning to snap the football right-handed this spring.

"It's going good," he said following Thursday's practice, the Vols' first in full pads. "I've worked on it all offseason. It was great to go out there today and get it going with the full pads on."

Clearly harder to please, head coach Derek Dooley isn't quite as satisfied as Stone. He said following Wednesday's workout that the Nashvillian's snapping has been "very inconsistent," especially if defenders are moving around and disrupting his concentration.

"When you start thinking about other things, the snap starts to go," Dooley said. "It's a work in progress."

Stone conceded that his snaps aren't as smooth when he's distracted but expressed confidence that he'll have the kinks worked out in short order.

"It's all in learning," the 6-3, 307-pound rising sophomore said. "I feel I've been getting a lot of great work with my team, and I feel I'm coming along quite nicely with it."

To expedite his comfort level, Stone is staying after practice to get extra snaps with Vol quarterbacks. He also is doing "everyday activities" right-handed in an effort to develop more hand/eye coordination.

"Things like eating, picking up stuff," he said. "If I'm going somewhere I might dribble a basketball with my right hand ... stuff like that, just to get more acclimated with it."

The switch from left-hand to right-hand snapping is just the latest challenge Stone has faced. After starting Games 4, 5 and 6 of 2010 at left guard, he was asked to play center. He agreed but, when he struggled with the traditional snap, he was taught the so-called "pop-up snap," which involves holding the ball at the tip instead of the laces. Once he became adept at this, he started Games 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 at center.

Although there were surprisingly few botched exchanges using the left-hand pop-up snap last season, Stone wasn't surprised when Dooley suggested he change snapping styles again.

"It was impending," Stone said. "I kind of felt it was coming because the snap I was doing was so awkward. I kind of prepared myself for it, so I wasn't really too shocked when they asked me to snap right-handed."

After changing positions, changing snapping styles and changing hands, Stone might be a bit overwhelmed. He shrugs off such talk, however.

"I don't feel like it's overwhelming," he said. "It's just what they need me to do, and I've got to do what I have to do for Tennessee. Other players have done it, so it's not a big problem."

Although the left is clearly his dominant hand, Stone says he's even learning to do the more difficult shotgun snap right-handed. Asked if he sees a benefit in being able to snap with either hand, he nodded.

"Yes, I feel like it makes me more versatile," he said, "and it kind of confuses pass rushers a little bit."

Stone was one of three true freshmen who started in Tennessee's offensive line last fall. He believes the experience he, guard Zach Fulton and tackle Ja'Wuan James got in 2010 will make for a much more effective Vol offensive line in 2011.

"I think that can make us a lot better because we got a lot of experience against some good competition last year," Stone said. "Now we're getting a whole offseason to work against our team, work with each other and become more comfortable with each other.

"That's giving us a great chance to come together as a unit."

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