The invisible man

Ben Bartholomew

One Tennessee football player has been showing up in the starting lineup this fall because he hasn't been showing up on film.

That would be junior Ben Bartholomew, who has earned first-team status at fullback by basically being obscure - no obvious mistakes - when Vol coaches review practice and game tapes.

"You don't notice him, which is good in a fullback," head coach Derek Dooley said this week. "He's playing low to high, he's fitting on his man and he's not causing problems ... and that's good for a fullback."

Told of the comment, Bartholomew laughed and replied: "Exactly. I once heard a great quote from a lineman: 'My goal is to be invisible so the playmakers can make plays.' That's kind of the fullback's role - fit on your blocks, so the running backs can make plays."

Sophomore Channing Fugate started at fullback in five late-season games last fall and in the 2011 opener this fall. Bartholomew, a 6-foot-2, 251-pounder from Nashville, has started the last two games, however, due to his diligence as a blocker.

"I think I'm doing well," he said. "I've been trying to run my feet through contact, run through my blocker, hit him as hard as I can and stay balanced ... be the best blocker I can. It's pretty simple."

Still, Tennessee's ground game ground to a halt last Saturday in Gainesville, where the Vols finished with minus-9 net rushing yards in a 33-23 loss to Florida. Bartholomew believes the running attack will be much better by the time Tennessee hosts Buffalo on Oct. 1, however.

"We're practicing the run a lot," he said. "There's a constant focus on getting the run game better every single day, and I think we're going to do it. We had a lot of bright points (at Florida) that could've been big plays that we just barely missed, so we're going to try to work on those and make those happen."

Bartholomew has yet to carry the ball this season but he has recorded two receptions for 26 yards. That isn't surprising, since Vol fullbacks often serve as safety-valve receivers out of the backfield.

"Catching the ball in the flat is something the fullback should always be able to do," he said. "We have some passes to the fullback (in the playbook) but our job is to get the run started."

Bartholomew catches the ball reasonably well, especially after spending more time practicing at tight end than at fullback in 2010. He believes he developed a new perspective during that time.

"I think a lot of the benefit was learning to understand the whole scheme of the play," he said. "At tight end you've kind of got to know what everyone's doing in the whole formation. Knowing that makes it easier to read the defense and easier to read where your blocks are going to be. And getting tight end reps definitely helped in catching the ball."

Because of two high-ankle sprains - one in August and another at midseason - Bartholomew had to redshirt in 2010. Watching without participating was difficult but he drew comfort from his older brother, Will.

"I definitely talked to Will," Ben said. "He and the rest of my family prayed for me, and that helped me a lot."

The Bartholomews are a football family. Will was Tennessee's starting fullback in 2000 and 2001. Will and Ben's grandfather, Sam, was the Vol blocking back (essentially a fullback) in 1937, '38 and '39. Given the family history, Ben is glad to be back at fullback.

"It's very natural for me, that's for sure," he said, and it is a family tradition. We Bartholomews like to hit people, so that's been enjoyable." Recommended Stories

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