"It looks like we have a lot of guys with some potential," said Fulmer. "(Jon) Hefney and Jon Wade, they both look like they have some skills. Both of them are kick-off and punt guys." Fulmer went on to discuss just how much of an impact Hefney and another incoming freshman are having in the early stages of the year. "Jon Hefney just keeps showing up," he said. "He and Inky Johnson both look like they're going to be some help."
Hefney and Johnson are competing for playing time in the secondary. The unit is short on experience, but big on numbers. Because of the youth movement, Fulmer said his squad hasn't been able to run much nickel or dime coverage. According to Fulmer, the newcomers need to get used to being aggressive in the defensive backfield, though.
"Physically it's very demanding," Fulmer said. "It's a position where you‚re going to win some battles and lose some battles, but you can't hang your head. You've got to go right back in there and play the next down just as hard."
As far as the kicking game is concerned, Fulmer seems pleased with the way that phase of the game is taking shape, too. "I was really happy about the way Dustin and Britton (Colquitt) have started," Fulmer said. "i‚m happy about the way James Wilhoit is kicking the ball."
On the defensive side of the football, Fulmer hopes that what his defensive front lacks in depth, it makes up for in toughness and durability. So far, Fulmer mentioned the group has a ways to go in order to match his expectations. Yet, he believes he has a few pieces to a winning puzzle. One of the key cogs in the mix is sophomore Tony McDaniel.
"He has to play up to his potential," Fulmer said. "Potential is what we all have. Ability is what you're capable of, but attitude determines how you do it. Physically imposing as he is he can be a dominant defensive lineman like (John) Henderson and (Albert) Haynesworth."
As expected, the quarterback situation was a hot topic. Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge, both true freshmen, have been thrown into fire right away. Fulmer likes their poise, but did point out they both have plenty to absorb in the coming days.
"I don't think either one of them look out of place or uncomfortable," Fulmer said. It's just a lot to learn. We've got to make the little things a priority (in practice) that are big things in a ballgame. Things are starting to multiply on them."
An unexpected bright spot came from a position many consider neglected by the coaching staff during the last few years, tight end. Fulmer spoke highly of 6-foot-4, 310-pound Victor McClure‚s play on Sunday.
"Vic caught everything thrown to him today," Fulmer quipped. "I'd be a cornerback's nightmare with him to catch one out there by himself and try to get him down."
Across the offensive line, Fulmer is encouraged by Rob Smith's play. Smith was a part of the first team at left guard for the second consecutive day. He is also seeing some time at center behind Jason Respert and Chuck Prugh. Smith is one of three guards who could start for the Vols when they open up the season in just under a month. Cody Douglas looks like he could be a mainstay at right gurad. Aaron Sears is the other player who could factor into the rotation. Sears, like Douglas, also has the ability to play offensive tackle.
Sunday afternoon's practice had one visitor of note. High-school senior Jonathan Crompton was in town taking in some of the action. Crompton, from Waynesville, NC., is regarded by most recruiting analysts as one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Crompton committed to the Vols a few weeks ago.