Wiesman's a wild man

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He may have the innocent look of a 10-year-old but, once Dylan Wiesman steps onto the football field, Tennessee's freshman guard exhibits the disposition of a rattlesnake … always looking to strike.

"The first time I saw him he reminded me of (baby-faced backup center) Mack Crowder," senior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James recalled with a laugh. "I thought they were twins.

"He seemed like a regular kid off the field. Then, on the field, he turned into The Hulk. It was crazy."

Vol teammates have been witnessing Wiesman's on-field transformation from cheerful cherub to Incredible Hulk ever since he showed up on campus early last summer. They say the 6-foot-3, 308-pounder from Cincinnati is Tennessee's most aggressive player.

"He's looking to take somebody's head off every play," Crowder said. "That's what you need in an offensive lineman. That's one thing he brought to the table right off the bat – wanting to hit somebody every play. We chart (practice) knockdowns, and I believe he's second on the team with the number of knockdowns, which is awesome."

As the victim in several of those practice-field knockdowns, senior defensive end Corey Miller has developed a healthy respect for Wiesman.

"Dylan's going to be The Man," Miller said. "Right now Dylan comes out with a go-get-it attitude. He doesn't care who you are or who you line up against. Dylan's trying to finish everybody. He's a really aggressive guy."

Vol coaches and teammates alike speak of the "mean streak" Wiesman exhibits. He doesn't just try to win a one-on-one battle; he tries to dominate his man right up through the echo of the whistle. That has become his trademark.

"It shows up on (practice) film all the time," Miller said. "Whenever you see Dylan on film, you say, ‘OK, that's Wiesman right there.' You can tell. The guy's out there busting heads every day."

Marlon Walls, another senior defensive end, also respects the rookie's gung-ho approach to blocking.

"Oh, man, Dylan's a tough kid," Walls said with a chuckle. "If you don't bring it, man, he'll try to finish you. He's a pretty tough kid."

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian suggests that Wiesman has the ideal temperament for an offensive lineman.

"When you are recruiting, particularly the big guys on the offensive and defensive sides of the lines, you look for a guy that plays with a mean streak," Bajakian said. "We have known Dylan very well since he was an underclassman (in high school). He has always demonstrated that mean streak. He always finishes blocks; he has a nasty edge to him.

"Obviously, physical skills are important but we recruit guys that have the personality that we are looking for – that championship personality, that championship mentality. Dylan comes in here with that mentality firmly ingrained in him. That's a testament to his high school coach and his high school program but it's also a testament to the kid, his competitive spirit and his physicality."

Wiesman's look-alike says the freshman's mean streak only shows up when he's in the heat of battle.

"Off the field he's just like everybody else," Crowder said. "You couldn't really tell it's there. Like any good player, whenever he straps on the pads, it's all business. That's when the meanness really comes out, and that's what you want."

Wiesman's take-no-prisoners approach to blocking seems to elevate the aggression level on the practice field each day.

"It's contagious," James said. "When we see him doing that as a freshman we (older linemen) want to pancake somebody. That makes everybody want to play harder. That guy that he pancaked now has to get up and play a little harder because he just got embarrassed. He brings energy to our practice."

Wiesman's aggressive nature rubs off on his offensive teammates whenever he's on the field. That helps.

"Tremendously," Bajakian said. "We talk a lot about how it just takes one person to set a tempo or set a tone, whether it's a receiver who's blocking his butt off till the echo of the whistle or an offensive lineman. That energy and mentality is infectious to others."

Because his three years as an assistant to Butch Jones at the University of Cincinnati (2010, 2011, 2012) coincided with Wiesman's three years at Colerain High school, Vol offensive line coach Don Mahoney had ample opportunity to assess the player's college potential. He fully expected the freshman's work ethic and football IQ to produce steady progress on the college level.

"The strides he's making each day are encouraging," Mahoney said recently. "There are two questions a freshman has to answer when he comes in: Can you handle it mentally and physically? He has answered both of those. Physically, he is able to hold up, and right now he is one of our most physical guys as far as knockdowns. But he also understands the mental part of it, and that is allowing him to play fast."

Wiesman was making remarkable strides in preseason camp until a mid-August knee injury limited his practice participation for a while. He was held out of the opener against Austin Peay but saw some backup action at right guard last Saturday in Game 2 versus Western Kentucky.

Mahoney's assessment?

"Not bad," the Vol aide said. "It was his first time coming back from an injury, so there was a little bit of technical flaws – pad level, footwork and that type of thing – but he was his normal self as far as mixing it up, playing physical and that sort of thing. Some of the technical stuff just wasn't as sharp as it needed to be."

Wiesman was so impressive in early August that he was practicing at both guard and center. The plan to play him at both positions has been scrapped for now, however.

"He's going to focus more so on guard right now," Mahoney said. "The injury set him back, as far as being a nagging injury. I don't want to put too much on his plate. I want him to get himself physically right, then really just focus on guard technique."

If Wiesman's technique ever matches his aggressive nature he just might develop into something special. Vol teammates see a bright future.

"He's got some technical things to work on but he's a freshman, and they always do," Walls said. "He's a tough, tough kid and he's going to be a great player here, based on what he's done so far."

Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers agrees, noting: "He's got a little mean streak. That's good. He's a true freshman who is going to be a great player sooner or later."

James echoes those thoughts, noting: "He's a powerful kid, and I think he's going to be a great offensive lineman here."

Tennessee's offensive coordinator believes the quality coaching Wiesman got at Colerain High School will help him maximize his enormous potential someday.

"You can coach physicality and finishing blocks," Bajakian said. "It goes along with everything we preach from an effort standpoint, a strength standpoint and a mental conditioning standpoint…. But for Dylan to come in with such a firm foundation is exciting because the sky's the limit for him."

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