What's happened to Fulmer?

First, Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer shows up for preseason drills 20 pounds lighter than he was last year.

Then he breaks with tradition by announcing that media will be chased out of practice after 30 minutes each day.

He breaks with tradition again by announcing that the Vols have ''no first-team tailback,'' even though senior Cedric Houston is a returning two-year starter.

He then shocks the civilized world by announcing that freshman quarterbacks Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge are bracketed No. 1, ahead of a senior (C.J. Leak) and a junior (Rick Clausen).

He pulls another surprise in last Saturday's scrimmage, disdaining the run and relying almost exclusively on passing plays.

To recap:

A guy whose waistline had been expanding on an annual basis suddenly shows up 20 pounds lighter.

A guy who NEVER closed practice in his first 11 years on the job suddenly decides to close practice every day.

A guy known for giving seniors more breaks than the American Association of Retired Persons announces that Houston doesn't have a job sewn up and Leak doesn't have a job at all.

A guy who gets misty-eyed when he talks of ''pounding the rock'' suddenly decides that throwing the football all over the place is preferable to running it.

What's happened to Phil Fulmer?

After watching a few episodes of the new TV show, ''The 4400,'' the answer seems obvious to me. The Vols' head man was abducted by space aliens and replaced by a 20-pounds-lighter imposter. This imposter didn't know better than to close practice. He didn't know that seniors ALWAYS start Tennessee's opener, whether they deserve to or not. He didn't know that the 11th commandment is ''Thou Shalt Pound The Rock.''

I realize this abduction theory sounds a bit outlandish but I suspect it's true. If Tennessee wins the toss prior to the Sept. 5 opener and DOESN'T defer till the second half, I'll know for sure.

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