Right-hand man

James Stone

The most celebrated right-hand in college football is no longer a big deal, and that's good news for the Tennessee Volunteers.

Sophomore center James Stone, a natural left-hander, was ordered by Big Orange coaches to learn to snap right-handed during spring practice because a lefty snap spins differently and creates a problem for the quarterback. Stone struggled early - especially with shotgun snaps - but improved significantly as the spring continued.

After more hard work during the summer it appears that his snapping hand is no longer an issue. He's as comfortable with his right as he is with his left.

"I don't even think he notices anymore," quarterback Tyler Bray said recently. "I think he's fine with it. His snaps (all summer) were perfect, so I don't have a problem with it."

Stone has no problem with it, either. He can hardly remember the last time he and Bray had a poor exchange.

"We've done so much of it through the spring and summer that it's kind of become second nature," Stone said. "We have to continue to work with it every time, though. You can never just let it sit there."

Stone has fielded the question "How's the right-hand snap coming along?" dozens of times since spring practice began. He understands that a good snap is the starting point of every play, so he has not let the issue become an annoyance. Still, he'll be happy when he can say goodbye to the topic.

"I feel like once everybody can see that it's not a big deal and I can do it consistently, it won't be a big deal anymore," he said. "We had fewer issues this spring but this summer I feel like we really didn't have any. We had a lot of practice on it - me and Tyler and me and Matt (Simms)."

Stone can't afford any "issues" with his snaps because he is locked in a real battle with Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard for the starting job at center.

"It's a healthy competition," Stone said. "We're pushing each other to get better. We want to put the five best men on the field."

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has said that once Stone or Bullard locks down the center spot, the other is likely to move to another position. Stone started three games at left guard as a true freshman early last fall, and could return there with minimal adjustment.

"Like I said, we just want to put the five best men on the field," he said. "So whoever fills in that slot fills in that slot."

After starting three games at guard and five at center in 2010, Stone says it really doesn't matter which he plays in 2011.

"I don't have a preference," he said. "I just want to be on the field with my guys I've been working with."

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