Fulmer likes air game

Cedric Houston

Tennessee's passing game was a disaster area last fall but, just two full-pads workouts into preseason drills, head man Phillip Fulmer feels optimistic about the Vols' ability to throw and catch the ball in 2003.

''I'm really pleased with where we are in our drill work, and that carries over to group work, and that carries over to what little bit we've done as far as scrimmage-type work,'' he said following Monday's morning workout. ''We'll see a lot more once we get into 11-on-11 live business.''

Although UT's passing game was woeful a year ago, Fulmer isn't terribly surprised by the progress shown in early workouts this year.

''The offense has a lot of people returning,'' he said. ''They SHOULD be having a good start. And a couple of those freshmen sprinkled in at receiver makes things look a lot better.''

Wide receiver was the weakest link on UT's roster last fall. Based on early August workouts, it might be the team's most improved area this fall.

''We've identified our problem areas where we needed to get better -- cornerback, defensive tackle, wide receiver,'' Fulmer said. ''We're gaining on those. At wide receiver, certainly we are.''

The Vols also look to be improved in the offensive line. Two spots are set -- three-year starter Scott Wells at center and two-year starter Michael Munoz at left tackle. The rest of the starting line is anyone's guess.

Pending his summer school grades, Anthony Herrera will soon join a guard mix that already includes veterans Jason Respert and Chavis Smith, along with talented second-year players Cody Douglas and Rob Smith. If Douglas doesn't win a starting job at guard, he could uproot senior Sean Young at right tackle.

''There are still some spots up for grabs ... like guard,'' Fulmer noted. ''And there's a very competitive situation at right tackle. It's all pretty much wide open.''

No position is more competitive than running back, where incumbent Cedric Houston is being pushed by trimmed-down Jabari Davis, explosive Gerald Riggs and speedy Corey Larkins.

''All of those running backs have picked up the pace because they all want to play,'' Fulmer said. ''It's a very competitive situation.''

Overall, the head man is pleased with what he has seen so far.

''The kids have responded well,'' he said. ''We look better. We look better, drill-wise. A lot of the good players are out here who were injured at times last year. I'm pleased with the attitude and what we've gotten done to this point.

''They want to be good. Our kids want to have a good team. I don't think there's any question that they came in with the right attitude to get better and respond to coaching.... I'm anxious to get to a scrimmage situation.''

The first scrimmage is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. As always, Vol practices are closed to the public.

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