Mayes Departure Clears Way For Change

Now that Ruben Mayes has vanished in a purple haze, Tennessee coaches are scrambling to shore up a fullback position that was already suspect.

Fifth-year senior Troy Fleming will still hold down the starting job based on his experience and versatility. He knows all the blocking assignments and is serviceable as a receiver on audibles. He's also a viable option in single back sets. However, Fleming hasn't been as adept or as dedicated as a lead blocker and doesn't appear to be the type of punishing power player you need when pounding the rock.

Will Revill is a redshirt sophomore who is some 20 pounds heavier than Fleming and a better power blocker. He's limited in terms of game experience but figures to platoon at fullback seeing more playing time in the power-I set.

Beyond that the the only scholarship fullback is Sudan Ellington, 6-3, 250, a redshirt sophomore who is playing his fourth position in two years. Don't expect a breakthrough this year.

The loss of Mayes becomes most significant in the short term if UT suffers injuries at fullback, but it removes a player with excellent potential and solid credentials who could have well become the starter in 2004. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Tennessee didn't sign a fullback in the Class of 2003.

However, Tennessee did sign a linebacker in Jon Poe who could provide both immediate and long-term support at fullback. Poe played the position on a part-time basis in high school and possesses the ideal size, 6-0, 235, to take on linebackers.

Furthermore has the type of straight-line speed and leverage needed by a lead blocker and he owns the perfect mentality to attack SEC linebackers down after down, as Tennessee indulges its power running game.

"We spot played him at fullback and he had several big runs for us," said Covington High School strength coach Jake Linville. "He was the heart and soul of our defense at middle linebacker. As far as on the field he's a tenacious hitter. That's his thing. He can run from sideline to sideline and he can hit. On the field his strength is his combination of speed and the ability to explode into his tackles and run through the opponent."

Those same traits translate well to fullback where the object is to explode into linebackers. It takes both strength and durability to assume such a mission and Poe clearly has both attributes.

Poe has 4.55 speed, a 30-inch vertical leap and was bench pressing 405 pounds coming out of high school while performing over 500 in the squat.

"I could see him playing fullback," said Jeff Lieker who was Poe's head coach at Coffeyville Community College. "He's just so physical, I mean he will just hammer you. He will bring it.

"He was just getting settled into a position last year. He had to miss a couple of games will the knee, but he was always ready to go. John's best days are ahead of him."

Poe's best days could be spent at fullback, where the Vols power-I attack lacked the sledgehammer presence of a big, physical fullback last season. Poe's wide-body build, Herculean strength and take-no-prisoners mindset meets Tennessee's need to a T. Additionally, Poe has the quick-twitch muscle makeup that enables him to launch from a stance at top speed, allowing him to get to the hole and on top of linebackers in a hurry.

"John only knows one way; that's fast, go hard," said Lieker. "We were pretty pleased with his technique considering how aggressive he is."

None of this is to suggest Poe wouldn't be effective at middle linebacker, but Tennessee has something of a logjam there. Robert Peace has size, smarts and experience as a senior. Redshirt sophomore Kevin Simon has the speed and athletic ability to be a playmaker in the middle. Marvin Mitchell came on fast as a true freshman and Daniel Brooks is simply too good to sit on the bench.

Poe has three years of eligibility which means he could learn on the job this year and still have two years to contribute as a first or second team fullback. His contributions to the offense wouldn't end with blocking. Poe brings the type of aggressive, enthusiastic attitude that can imbue the offense with emotion. In that respect, he could become a tone setter who is always near the point of attack.

"He made plays but the thing that sticks out in my mind is the person he was and what he brings to a team with his contagious type enthusiasm," Lieker said. "I'd love to have him for four years. He's just one of those kind of kids, a great kid, a great leader, just always had a smile on his face — one of those type of guys. He's just a joy to be around all the time."

Lead blocker might be the ideal position for a natural leader with a love for contact.

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