Head-start program

Ja'Wuan James started all 13 games at right offensive tackle as a Tennessee freshman last fall. Two classmates, quarterback Tyler Bray and fullback Channing Fugate, started five games each.

The common denominator? All three freshmen were mid-term enrollees who got to participate in the 2010 offseason conditioning program and 15 spring practices.

If you think that's a coincidence ... well, you haven't talked to Vol head man Derek Dooley. He is convinced that enrolling early is a tremendous benefit for a freshman hoping to make immediate impact at the college level.

"You're getting 15 more practices. You're getting eight weeks of offseason training," Dooley said. "So, you're getting 12 weeks of intensive training and teaching. That's a lot. That's three months of hardcore advanced work."

It should be noted that two offensive linemen who did not enroll early wound up starting games for the Vols last season. James Stone started eight times, Zach Fulton five times. They are exceptions to the rule who benefited from Tennessee's glaring lack of depth in the O-line, however. Very few freshmen are mature enough to win a starting job without the head start that comes with being an early enrollee.

"If you want to play next year and you can get six months or three months of preparation, it's pretty obvious which is going to have you better prepared come August," Dooley said. "It doesn't mean you're going to play because you're a mid-year (enrollee) but if you have the physical skills and you make the adjustments quickly, then your opportunity to play just skyrockets because you're going to be so much further ahead come fall camp."

Tennessee has six mid-term freshmen participating in spring practice this year. They are quarterback Justin Worley, tight end Brendan Downs, wide receiver Vincent Dallas, center Mack Crowder, guard Marcus Jackson and defensive back Justin Coleman. Because the roster isn't quite as depleted as it was a year ago, only Jackson is given much chance to start in 2011. Still, Dooley believes enrolling early is proving very helpful for each one.

"They're all doing well," the head man said, "and I think they're all going to be good contributors to the program. We're glad they're here."

That goes double for offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who has five of the six mid-termers working on his side of the ball. He has no doubt that each is benefiting considerably from the head start.

"It helps a lot. It's immeasurable," Chaney said. "Justin Worley and I were talking about it the other day ... where he would be when he gets into fall, compared to where he is right now.

"I think primarily it's a social adjustment. He knows me, he knows how I'm going to deal with things. That's good because that's a trauma sometimes for these kids - just to understand how coaching is at this level.

"I think every one of them would think it's the best thing they ever did - coming in early. We're really fortunate because we feel like all of our kids really were ready for that step and have adapted with relative ease so far."

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