Few freshmen are big enough, strong enough and technical enough to match up with veteran SEC defensive tackles who tend to be significantly more physically mature. Expecting an 18-year-old who has only a passing familiarity with a college weight room to whip a 21-year-old D-tackle who has spent 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years in a college conditioning program is asking a bit much.
Tennessee might have a player in this recruiting class capable of answering that challenge, however. That would be Zach Fulton. The 6-5, 315-pounder from Homewood, Ill., was ranked the No. 14 guard prospect in America by Scout.com last winter. Based on what Fulton showed at UT's June, 2009 lineman camp, it's difficult to imagine that there are 13 better guard prospects entering college this fall.
Simply put, Fulton looked like a man among boys that day. His physique is mature for his age. His footwork is surprisingly good for his size. His technique is better than you'd expect. And his strength is imposing. In one pass-rushing drill, he sent an opposing defensive lineman sprawling onto his backside with one six-inch punch (shove) from his powerful hands.
Fulton appears to be the real deal. His older brother, Xavier, is a blocker for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it seems likely that Zach will be playing for pay someday, as well.
First, though, he must prove himself at the collegiate level. Given Tennessee's outlook at guard, he should get the opportunity to play right away.
The Vols' first-team right guard is Jarrod Shaw, a 6-4, 331-pound senior who has just three career starts to his credit. The other three scholarship guards are 6-2, 280-pound sophomore Carson Anderson, 6-6, 331-pound redshirt freshman JeQuari Schofield and 6-2, 285-pound redshirt freshman Kevin Revis. Anderson saw a few snaps of mop-up duty last fall in blowouts of Western Kentucky and Memphis. Schofield and Revis have never played a down at the collegiate level.
With just four scholarship guards on the Vols' veteran roster, Fulton can achieve second-team status simply by outperforming one of them in preseason camp. Given his impressive blend of size, strength and athleticism, that's almost a given.
The question then becomes: Is this young man advanced enough to be the first true freshman guard to start at Tennessee since Bill Mayo in 1981?
Don't bet against him.