Fulmer likes 'sense of urgency'

On the heels of an uncharacteristic 8-5 season in 2002, Tennessee head football coach Phillip Fulmer says his players feel a ''sense of urgency'' to improve and return to their elite status.

Speaking on an SEC telephone conference earlier today, Fulmer was asked how last year's disappointment has affected the Vols.

''It certainly brought a sense of urgency to our team,'' he replied. ''We were on the road recruiting the day everybody reported back (following the 30-3 Peach Bowl loss to Maryland). The seniors and juniors called a team meeting, and said, 'This is the way it's going to be.'

That was the first of many incidents Fulmer has seen from his veterans that suggest Tennessee's 2002 struggles will not be repeated in 2003.

''I love the leadership of our football team right now,'' he said. ''And they've backed it up with their work.''

Fulmer is no stranger to adversity. After the 1994 Vols went 8-4, his next four teams went 11-1, 10-2, 11-2 and 13-0 -- a four-year record of 45-5 -- with a national title in 1998.

''We had a tough start in 1994 but that adversity laid the foundation for a really great run,'' Fulmer said. ''Eight-and-five is not what we expect here at Tennessee at all. Eight-and-four in the regular season, even with all the injuries, is not what we expect. But I think the attitude is really good.''

Although Gerald Riggs, Jr., had an impressive spring, Fulmer suggested that incumbent starter Cedric Houston is still the top horse in UT's stable.

''Cedric had a great spring,'' the head man said. ''He really matured. He had 846 yards last year and missed four ballgames. If he just would've averaged what he averaged in the other games, he easily would've had 1100 or 1200 yards.''

Houston has shed a few pounds since the 2002 season. He seemed a step quicker in spring drills. Fulmer noticed.

''This spring he looked like a different guy,'' the Vol coach said. ''He was much more mature and very quick. I think he would be our tailback, and he has a good supporting cast around him. He knows the offense.... This year he's playing with a lot of confidence and knows what he's doing, as far as all the protections. He knows how to make the second and third guy miss, which is something we didn't do very good last year.

''It's yet to be determined whether he's on the level of some other guys we've had here (Jamal Lewis, Little Man Stewart, Charlie Garner, Travis Henry) but he's made some definite strides in that direction.''

Fulmer also touched on the spring experiment which saw senior safety Mark Jones work almost exclusively at wide receiver.

''Mark Jones will play both ways for us -- to some degree, at least,'' Fulmer said. ''With Kelley Washington being hurt last year and nobody really developing to the extent where we could say, 'This guy can do some dynamic things,' it was imperative that we get some help.

''We've got a senior quarterback that's really good and nobody to get the ball to that's going to make something happen. So, we moved Mark over there, and he immediately made an impact. He's a really good athlete, a guy who can make something happen. Now we've got to keep him healthy and we've got to get him some help. Derrick Tinsley, Jonathan Wade and Tony Brown are guys I'm hoping will emerge as guys who can help Mark.''

Alabama's Mike Price also participated in the teleconference. As expected, he declined to answer questions regarding the highly publicized ''incident'' which allegedly took place at a recent pro-am golf tournament in Pensacola, Fla.

Other interesting news and notes from today's SEC teleconference will be posted in this space over the next few days.

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