''I think it's ahead,'' he said. ''The running backs are a year more mature. All of them played prominent roles of some sort last year. The offensive line is healthy, and that makes a big difference. And you've got another year under your belt with the quarterbacks.''
Fulmer also noted that the receivers are ''making some plays'' in preseason.
''A real positive step was (backup QB) C.J. Leak making some plays on time that he hadn't been making,'' Fulmer added. ''That was a real positive, so I think we're definitely ahead of where we were this time last year.''
Asked about freshman receivers Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain, Bret Smith and Bill Grimes, Fulmer replied: ''I've been particularly encouraged by all four of 'em. All four of them are going to help us around here for the time they're here -- some earlier than others but all of them are going to be good players for us. ... They've shown they can make a play and that's certainly what we needed from last year.''
The new wideouts are so impressive, in fact, that Jonathan Wade is looking more and more as if his future is at defensive back, rather than receiver.
Noting that Wade will play on both sides of the ball this fall, Fulmer said: ''Jonathan's going to play some (as an extra DB) in the nickel package and the dime package. We need some help back there. He and Mark (Jones) and Derrick Tinsley will all see time over there.''
After reviewing films of Tuesday night's scrimmage work, Fulmer said he saw ''some real positive things.... The running backs were probably the thing that stood out the most. There were a couple of plays by the receivers. Those are two positions we need plays from.
''There were some good consistent things but not enough on either side of the ball.... The ball wasn't on the ground much (due to fumbles) and we took reasonably good care of the ball in the passing game. Offensively, I thought it was a positive step in the right direction.''
Defensively, tackle Mondre Dickerson was a bright spot.
''Mondre Dickerson did a good job,'' Fulmer said. ''The rest of 'em are learning ... have a ways to go. We're not where we need to be at that position at all.''
The best prospect among the other defensive tackles is 6-6, 300-pound sophomore Greg Jones. He has superior potential but limited experience.
''Greg's doing OK,'' Fulmer said. ''He's trying hard. The whole group (of tackles) needs to be more violent when the ball is snapped and more aggressive. That's hard to do because they're not sure what to do; they haven't played enough.
''J.T. Mapu has shown the best flashes of being aggressive and quick. He's a little bit undersized but he can make up for that with technique. David Ligon slid in there (from end) and did some things. He's a hardnosed, tough guy. He's just got to learn to play faster and get stronger.''
After a brief fling at tackle, Cory Anderson (listed at 6-2, 240) has returned to defensive end.
NOTES: Guard Rob Smith was hospitalized as a precaution with a heat-related problem. He should be released today.... Linebacker Kevin Simon was withheld from Wednesday morning's workout due to a hamstring pull.... Defensive end Parys Haralson suffered a broken nose Tuesday evening but was back on the field this morning. He will have his nose reset today and likely will miss the evening workout.... The Vols will hold a situational scrimmage this evening.