Pope bucking UT trend

In 1988 offensive line coach Phillip Fulmer convinced Tennessee head coach John Majors to switch 6-7, 290-pound Charles McRae from nose guard to offensive tackle. The transplanted defender blocked so well in '89 and '90 that he was the seventh player taken in the 1991 NFL Draft.

McRae is the shining example of a Vol defensive lineman making a successful switch to the offensive line but he certainly isn't the only one. His successors have included Bernard Dafney (1991), Patrick Lenoir (1991), Rodney Gordon (1992), Jason Layman (1993), Kevin Mays (1993), Spencer Riley (1996), Mercedes Hamilton (1996), Fred Weary (1999) and David Ligon (2005) to name a few.

In all that time, however, there is not one case of a UT offensive lineman making a successful conversion to the defensive line.

"In my time – my 30-something years here – I don't think that's happened," Fulmer, now UT's head man, said this week. "At least, not that I can remember."

That does not bode well for UT freshman Cody Pope, who moved from center to defensive tackle on Monday. But Fulmer says Pope is a special case.

"The unusual thing about Cody is that he only played one year of offensive line in high school," the head man said. "The rest of it was as a defensive lineman. When I watched him on tape (the attraction) wasn't that he was a polished offensive lineman; it was because he was a big kid who could run like hell and had a defensive temperament."

Even with size, speed and a defensive temperament, Pope's stay on defense may be a short one. Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe wants the 6-6, 285-pound Californian just as much as defensive coordinator John Chavis does. So, Pope's work with the defense is little more than an experiment at this point.

"That's what this time of the year is for – to look and see," Fulmer said. "But he has a darned good temperament."

Regardless of what happens with Pope, you wonder: Why have so many Vols made successful transitions from defensive line to offensive line while no Vols made the move in reverse during Fulmer's three decades on The Hill?

"The offensive line is kind of the last stop before the bus stop," Fulmer said, adding that most offensive line prospects "aren't quite fast enough to be defensive linemen. That's usually what it is – speed or quickness."


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