Fulmer discusses offense

Like everyone else in Big Orange Country, UT head coach Phillip Fulmer is looking for improvement in the Vols' pass-catching crew. So far, he believes he's seeing it.

"An interesting situation is that our receiver corps right now is ahead of any place we were any time last year,'' Fulmer said during a Saturday morning news conference held in conjunction with the Vols' first day in pads.

The head man went on to label freshmen Jayson Swain, Robert Meachem, Bret Smith and Bill Grimes "a talented group, all of whom could help us this year.''

Fulmer said that ''two or three'' of the first-year wideouts probably will play this fall, adding that ''how they do after the snap in reacting to what the defense does'' will determine how much playing time the freshmen get.

Overall, Fulmer seems pleased with his receiving corps. There is a good blend of experience and youth.

''Experience helps,'' Fulmer noted. ''Mark Jones brings us that guy who can separate from a defensive back, make the move that he'll completely lose him. He's shown a lot of savvy that way. He's just a really good football player.

''Jonathan Wade gives us the speed guy but he's got to become more consistent catching the ball.

''The younger guys are all outside guys who can get down the field and stretch the defense but also catch the ball inside and be physical enough to handle the punishment.

''Right now it would be Mark and Jonathan, and one or two of those young guys -- as far as big-play potential -- that you would look at. (Derrick) Tinsley's one of those guys, as well. He showed that last year but he's out for six to eight days (with a sprained ankle).''

Asked about the outlook at tight end, Fulmer answered:

"Victor McClure is an exceptional blocker at tight end. As you would expect being a (converted) offensive guard, he is not the best receiver out there. But we won a national championship (in 1998) with Eric Diogu at tight end and I think he caught one ball during the year.

''Our thoughts right now are to try and keep getting Victor better in the passing game, knowing that he is an exceptional run blocker.

''Justin Reed has made consistent progress. He's certainly athletic enough to do the things in the passing game. He's got a ways to go in the run game.

''Jake Finlayson is a walk-on but a big, physical guy who can give you some things. We have a young prospect, Brad Cottam, who I am very excited about. He's not there physically because he played basketball and hasn't lifted a lot but he get into the picture this year.

Regarding Aaron Kirkland's move from tight end to fullback, Fulmer said:

''That was a depth move -- an attempt to get the best players on the field. Our fullback and tight end positions in a lot of ways are interchangeable. It only made sense for us to get him to a position where he was going to get more reps. Many of the things he's going to be doing are the same.

''I'm looking for consistency from Aaron Kirkland -- in his athletic life, his personal life, his academic life. To this point he's done a good job. I take that back ... he's done a BETTER job. Hopefully, we'll get to the point where he's a guy we can count on everyday.''

Questioned about how he plans to use fullback Troy Fleming this fall, Fulmer replied:

''We asked him to do too much last year. When we've had the really good fullbacks -- the Bartholomews, the Crosbys and the Brysons -- there was always two or three guys taking a lot of those hits because it's a very physical position.

''Troy's a really good player. If (Will) Revill and Kirkland can take a lot of the physical load off of him, I think we'll be a lot better off.

''I'm looking for a fourth guy (to play fullback). For us to go on the road, especially in the conference, we have got to be able to run the ball effectively like we have in the apst, and our fullbacks are key to that.''

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