Hitting the bullseye

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley may not demand perfection but he apparently expects it ... at least in terms of shotgun snaps.

Dooley's recent grumblings about snaps from the shotgun formation have some fans imagining the ball routinely sailing over the quarterback's head or bouncing to him on a hop. That is not the case. Dooley's idea of a satisfactory shotgun snap is a lot stricter than most fans may realize.

"Coach wants it directly in the middle of the quarterback's chest every time," junior center Cody Pope said. "Not at his right armpit, not at his left armpit, not at his face mask, but right in the middle of his chest every time. It's like throwing a bullseye with a dart."

Actually, it's tougher than throwing a bullseye with a dart because you're doing it upside-down with your head between your legs. Right?

"Exactly," Pope said, grinning broadly.

Degree of difficulty aside, making a shotgun snap that meets Dooley's rigorous standards is no simple task.

"He wants a bullseye every time," Pope said. "When we turn on the film and the snap is right at the quarterback's armpit, Coach is like, 'Cody, that's not good enough. That's not good enough.' I'm over here saying, 'Hey, it's not on the ground,' and he's like, 'No. That's not good enough for Tennessee.'

"That's the biggest struggle every day - trying to get it right in that bullseye."

Pope, a 6-6, 290-pound junior from Julian, Calif., didn't play enough to letter in 2009. He switched from guard to center during spring practice, however, and quickly moved to No. 1 on the depth chart. By all accounts, he's doing exceptionally well ... except on shotgun snaps.

"I think it's a process," he said, adding that line coach Harry Hiestand "says we have to make it a big emphasis in practice and even before practice. He's been showing me a lot of film from the pros - how they do it and where they release it. It's something I've had to concentrate on but I'm getting better at it to the point where I don't have to think about it anymore."

New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox throws a lot of wrinkles at Tennessee's offense in practice each day. To his credit, Pope declined to blame Wilcox's wiles for the occasional shotgun-snap mishap.

"No, it's just me and the quarterback," Pope said. "Coach Wilcox likes to bring a lot of different types of pressure, so it can get a little challenging at times trying to call the right protections and then snap the ball. That can get tricky but mostly it's me and the ball."

Pope and the ball spend a lot of time together these days. In addition to the two hours he spends snapping it in practice each evening, he does dozens of snaps per day on his own.

"I do whatever number they have on the practice script," he said. "I'll also do 50 before practice and another 50 before working out, so I'm getting in at least 100 snaps each day before practice."

On a positive note, Pope is having no difficulty with the standard center/quarterback exchange this preseason.

"I don't have any problems with that," he said. "It's a little different with different quarterbacks, though, especially when we have some of the walk-on quarterbacks in there. I tell them, 'Hey, you've got to really ride me out' - stay down until you're absolutely certain you have the ball secured. It's all about not putting the ball on the ground."


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