April 2, 2014
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- The unit that drew the most attention for Tennessee during the 2013 season was the center of attention once again on Wednesday morning as Tennessee Football held its annual Pro Day at the Anderson Training Center.
Representatives from all 32 National Football League franchises turned out to see the Vols, as did media from from all over the country. The five offensive linemen on display were the main attraction, so much so that several teams didn't just send a scout, they sent their offensive line coach.
That list included the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, whose O-Line coach Tom Cable, a former NFL head coach himself, put the linemen through a drill himself, as did the others.
"Just that you could play offensive line, that you could fit their scheme," Ja'Wuan James said of why he felt the coaches made the trip to personally observe the group. "Every coach had a different drill, they just wanted to see how you would fit in their systems."
The five linemen, Alex Bullard, Zach Fulton, James, Antonio Richardson and James Stone, have the chance to do something that hasn't been done since 1975: Be selected in the NFL Draft. Nebraska had five linemen picked in the draft nearly 40 years ago -- a draft that included 17 rounds.
The last team to have four linemen selected in the same draft was in 2003, when four Notre Dame Fighting Irish were picked in a seven-round draft. In 2002, four Arizona State linemen were also selected.
"It would be a blessing and a tribute to all of the work we have put in," Fulton said of the chance to have all five selected. "We had talked about it during our sophomore year because we were all starting by then. We figured that there was a good chance we would all go to the combine with our experience. For it to finally be true, it's a dream."
"It shows how much work we've put in," he said. "This has been a tight unit and we've worked for everything we've gotten. We deserve it."
Another advantage was the comfort factor that they had training together and going through the drills as a unit one more time after so many hard morning and afternoons on the same turf where they competed Wednesday.
"It was fun," James said of the session. "I expected to be uptight, but it was just one last time doing a workout with my guys Zach, James, Alex and Tiny, just going out there and doing what we do."
"There is nothing like being with your boys," Bullard said. "I have played with these guys for three years. They are my closest friends. It was good to be out working with them again."
Richardson has been projected by some as a first-round selection, while his stock has dropped in the minds of others with injury concerns. He estimated that he felt "about 65 percent" during the season, but came out to prove he's completely healthy at the NFL Combine and again at UT's Pro Day.
"You really don't know anything until draft day," Richardson said. "I have faith that I'll be a first round draft pick and I'll continue to believe that until it doesn't happen. I feel good, I feel healthy and I believe I'm going to have a good career."
Unless he's selected to go to New York for Draft Night, Richardson isn't planning on stressing much over the telecast.
"I'll be at home in Nashville with my family and friends," he said. "I told them they can watch the Draft, I'll probably be upstairs watching Batman until a team calls me."
James started all 49 games at Tennessee at right tackle and projects to play the same position in the NFL. His workouts have showcased his skill, but have also been designed to help showcase his versatility at any of the five positions on the line.
"Only seven people dress out," James said of the NFL gameday roster each Sunday. "I'm just trying to be one of those seven."