Fulmer reflects on signees

Pronouncing himself ''very pleased,'' Vol football coach Phillip Fulmer said he and his staff ''met most of our needs'' on National Signing Day.

The Vols signed 20 players today, bringing their newcomer total to 23. Three players -- juco offensive lineman Albert Toeaina, juco defensive lineman Jesse Mahelona and prep schooler Antonio Reynolds -- enrolled in January and will be eligible for spring practice.

Fulmer conceded that the jucos ''should help the quickest,'' and that Reynolds will benefit from ''significant maturity.''

With the departure of four-year starter Casey Clausen leaving the quarterback picture muddled, much attention has been focused on QB signees Erik Ainge (Hillsboro, Oregon) and Brent Schaeffer (Deerfield Beach, Fla.). Fulmer noted that the Vols ''needed to do well at the quarterback position,'' and searched ''far and wide to find one who'll fit what we need.''

Fulmer disputed the stereotype that the 6-6, 200-pound Ainge is mainly a pocket passer and the 6-3, 190-pound Schaeffer is more of a mobile QB.

''Both are athletic guys who can move around in the pocket,'' he said, adding that both ''come from passing offenses.''

Fulmer said both QBs ''will have a chance to put themselves in the mix immediately,'' but conceded that he expects Tennessee's Game 1 starter next fall to ''come from the guys already on campus.'' That group consists of C.J. Leak, Rick Clausen and Bo Hardegree. He also mentioned quarterback-turned-receiver James Banks as a potential factor in the QB race.

The biggest surprise among Fulmer's comments concerned Ell Ash. The 6-5, 273-pounder was projected as an offensive lineman in many recruiting sources. Yet, he is ''definitely a defensive player,'' according to Fulmer, who thinks the big New Jersey product can have impact at the end position.

A player cut from the Mark Jones mold is Inquoris Johnson (6-0, 170, Atlanta). Fulmer said he ''could play both ways'' -- helping as a receiver, as a defensive back and perhaps as a return specialist. To underscore his athletic ability, Fulmer noted that Johnson scored 26 points and dished out 12 assists for his high school basketball team Tuesday night.

Another versatile newcomer is Sinclair Cannon (6-3, 190, Greer, S.C. He is listed as ''athlete'' on the signee sheet. Fulmer said he'll get a look at quarterback but also could figure at receiver or in the secondary. Cannon quarterbacked his high school team to the state title last fall.

Academically, the new recruits appear to be in good shape. Fulmer conceded, however, that ''a couple of guys have some work to do.''


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