Tennessee knows Fresno State's reputation as giant killers

Updated: August 26, 2003, 10:49 PM ET

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer believes season openers are tough because of unknown factors. Wondering what kind of opponent Fresno State will be is not in that category.

"Nobody on our football team should be shocked that they're getting ready to play a really fine football team," Fulmer said Tuesday at his first game-week news conference of the year.

No. 12 Tennessee opens the season Saturday at home against Fresno State, which has a recent tendency to sneak up on established, winning programs.

The Bulldogs beat Colorado, Oregon State and Wisconsin to open the 2001 season, and last season they beat Georgia Tech in the Silicon Valley Bowl.

In the Volunteers' camp, there is no Fresno Who?

"I think they fully understand they are in for a strong battle," said Fulmer, who calls Fresno State's receiving corps the best unit the Vols will face this season.

But Fulmer, as usual, has some questions about his own squad.

"First games are really hard. You're not sure about people until they actually get on the field and have a chance to play in front of the crowd and (in) the heat of the moment," Fulmer said. "I'm excited and anxious to see how the new guys respond."

Who will take place-kicking duties will probably be one of Fulmer's last decisions. He wants to see senior Philip Newman and redshirt freshman James Wilhoit practice more, but he is leaning toward appointing Newman to kickoffs as he did last year.

"It's not like we're picking between two bad guys. Both of them are very good and very consistent," Fulmer said.

Newman was 4-of-8 on field goals last year when he subbed for an injured Alex Walls.

The defensive tackle spot is still unsettled, Fulmer said, mainly because of a lack of depth and experience. The roster lists both sophomore Greg Jones and freshman Matt McGlothlin as starting left tackles and senior Mondre Dickerson at right tackle.

Reserve tackle LaRon Harris may not be eligible to play. Tennessee coaches learned Tuesday that freshman tackle Tony McDaniel, who was .004 under the required GPA, was ruled eligible to play this season by the NCAA. Harris, who redshirted last year, was one credit short of the NCAA minimum.

Sophomore Jason Allen won the starting spot at right cornerback opposite senior Jabari Greer. Fulmer said sophomore Brandon Johnson, who transferred after redshirting and then playing last year at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, is the No. 1 reserve. Redshirt freshman Antwan Stewart is making good progress, Fulmer said.

The right guard and tackle spots on the offensive line remain competitive. Sophomore Cody Douglas could beat out seniors Chavis Smith at guard or Sean Young at tackle.

Fulmer is less concerned about who starts than how many players can rotate in the game. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. with temperatures expected in the mid-80s.

"In early ball games and as hot as it's going to be, we'll play as many guys as we can in the course of the game," he said.

^------<

On the Net:

Tennessee football: http://utsports.ocsn.com

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index