Fulmer discusses defense

One of the first questions UT head football coach Phillip Fulmer fielded during a Saturday morning news conference held in conjunction with the Vols' first day in pads concerned the shaky situation at defensive tackle.

No wonder. In addition to losing 2002 starters Aubrayo Franklin and Rashad Moore to the NFL Draft, plus backup Ed Kendrick to graduation, the Vols have subsequently lost Andre Taylor to transfer, LaRon Harris to academic ineligibility and -- just yesterday -- Justin Harrell to a fractured ankle that will sideline him for six to eight weeks.

Choosing to emphasize the positive, Fulmer spoke of the progress being made by Mondre Dickerson, who has been the lone bright spot at tackle to date.

''Mondre Dickerson is potentially as good a prospect as John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and some of those guys,'' Fulmer said. ''He hasn't played a lot, so we've got to find out if he's a consistent guy. But he's a guy who bench-presses over 500 pounds and runs (the 40) in under 5-flat and can do a lot of things. But can he do it on a down-to-down consistent basis?''

So much for the positive spin. Fulmer then turned to the harsh reality of finding someone to play the tackle spot opposite Dickerson.

''I thought Justin Harrell was one of the better prospects around but he's not going to be with us for a while (because of a fractured ankle),'' the head man said. ''Greg Jones (who played sparingly as a freshman in 2002) has got to come through. (Walk-on) Matt McGlothlin is a good prospect. (Juco transfer) Zarnell Fitch is a guy we signed to help fill that void there. He's got a lot to learn but he's working hard and he's a tough guy.''

To provide some competition at defensive tackle, Fulmer has moved ends J.T. Mapu and Cory Anderson inside.

''We moved J.T. Mapu and Cory Anderson in there -- not for depth -- because I think either one of them could push himself into a starting position or at least put himself in a position to help us by the first game,'' Fulmer said.

There is another possible bright spot. LaRon Harris made an A and a B in the second session of summer school, prompting UT coaches to file an appeal regarding his eligibility.

''The appeal process will go forward,'' Fulmer said. ''If we win that, he possibly could push himself into a position of helping us.''

Certainly, the Vols need Harris. And they need a hasty recovery by Harrell.

''We need 'em all because we've lost six defensive tackles the past two years,'' Fulmer noted. ''Two of them were (NFL) first-rounders and three others were drafted, so five of them are on somebody's pro roster.''

Fulmer also addressed UT's lack of depth at cornerback.

"The cornerback opposite Jabari Greer is a concern,'' he said. ''Sometimes Antwan Stewart and sometimes Jason Allen look like the man. But we need to solve the problems at tackle and cornerback because a team is only as good as its weakest link. We have to do away with the weakness.''

The situation at cornerback is especially worrisome since the Vols' opening foe, Fresno State, boasts one of the premier passing attacks in college football.

"We need to be ready from the start, taking on a strong Fresno State team that perhaps has the best group of receivers we will face all season,'' Fulmer said. ''They can stretch the field and make life miserable for a defense.''

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