Sawtelle faces uphill battle

He's one of Tennessee's most celebrated football signees AND he's participating in spring practice. Normally, that combination would give a prospect an excellent chance to contribute as a Vol freshman.

But that may not be the case for Darris Sawtelle, a rugged 6-6, 285-pounder from Birmingham, Mich. Except for quarterback, offensive line may be the toughest position for a first-year player trying to crack a college lineup.

"For offensive linemen, it's really tough," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe says. "That's a man's game up there in this league. Those guys (freshmen) never played against anything like that."

Expecting an 18-year-old kid to block a physically mature 21-year-old man who has spent three to four years in a college strength program is asking a lot. Only two players in UT history, Bill Mayo and Michael Munoz, started Game 1 in the offensive line as true freshmen.

Darris Sawtelle is unlikely to become the third to accomplish the feat. Still, he might gain enough strength and knowledge between now and September to earn some playing time as a first-year player.

"Let's wait and see," says UT head coach Phillip Fulmer, himself a former offensive lineman. "The guy should be going to his high school prom or something like that. It's not an easy thing to come in at mid-semester, particularly at that position. Sometimes for the skills guys it's easier. We'll just have to wait and see how he does."

Rated a four-star prospect by, Sawtelle clearly has the tools to be a standout. If he increases his strength, fine-tunes his technique and memorizes his assignments, he could gradually work his way into the mix at Tennessee. The operative word is GRADUALLY.

"What you like to do is get a guy going from about 20 snaps a game to play 70 snaps a game," Cutcliffe says. "When you haven't done that, you don't have any idea what it's going to be like. Offensive line … that's a whole different world over there."

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