Respert finds new home

Three years ago, Phil Fulmer said that Jason Respert had the potential to be ''as good as Fred Weary ... maybe even better.'' Weary, of course, was one of Tennessee's finest offensive linemen of the past 15 years.

Due to an assortment of injuries, Respert has not yet approached Weary's level of performance. But a new year has brought a new position (center) and a new attitude. Assuming the post held the past four years by Scott Wells, Respert already feels right at home.

''I've been mainly a guard but I've gotten reps at center throughout my career here,'' he said. ''It's been a smooth transition, going from guard to center.''

The toughest thing about center, he added, is ''getting a consistent snap. I had a little problem in the spring with my shotgun snap to the quarterback ... not shooting it over his head.''

Establishing a consistent snap would be a lot easier if Respert were snapping to the same QB on a consistent basis. Instead, he's working with five quarterbacks this preseason -- senior C.J. Leak, junior Rick Clausen, redshirt freshman Bo Hardegree, true freshmen Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge. All are in the running for the first-team job.

''It helps any time you can get a comfort zone with one player,'' Respert said. ''I'm anxious to see which one of the quarterbacks steps up and takes the position. Hopefully, he and I will have a good relationship.''

Even with Wells, Sean Young and Anthony Herrera gone from last year's line, Respert believes the 2004 blocking front can be exceptional.

''I think we're very talented,'' he said. ''We can be as good as we want to be ... as good as we allow ourselves to be.''

One factor that should upgrade UT's line performance is the addition of a potentially dominating force in 6-foot-6, 260-pound juco transfer Albert Toeaina.

''He is a man, I'll tell you that,'' Respert said. ''He's every bit of 360 and he's solid. He's impressive.''


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