KNOXVILLE — The problem kept coming up for Tennessee.
Now coach Derek Dooley is addressing it.
The Volunteers made a switch on their offensive line during the open portion of Tuesday morning's practice, moving Alex Bullard from left guard to center and James Stone from center to left guard.
Stone's shotgun snaps have been an issue in UT's Southeastern Conference games going back to the loss at Florida, and with second-ranked Alabama's powerful defense awaiting UT on Saturday night, Dooley decided to take a look at another possible option.
"We work a lot of guys, like we always do, just trying to find the right pieces," he said. "I don't think it's any secret that James has been inconsistent on the shotgun snaps, and we can't not get in the shotgun, so we'll look at them a little bit and see if that [works].
"James has played some guard before. It's not something you want to do, but it's also something that when you have a pattern, you have to not be afraid to take some action."
Bullard, who transferred as a walk-on to UT from Notre Dame in January, worked some during spring practice at center and tackle before settling in at guard during preseason camp in August. He said he did some live-situation work last week, but his only other snapping work since the start of the season is during the quarterback-center exchange portion early in practice and before games.
The 6-foot-2, 309-pound sophomore made the move sound more permanent than what Dooley indicated.
"Coach [Dooley] just said we're going to see how it goes," Bullard said. "We're sticking with this as of right now. The coaches called my number -- they said we needed to do this -- and if they didn't think this was the best chance for us to win, I doubt they'd be doing it.
"We just have to trust in them, and we're rolling with it. I felt good today about doing it."
Stone has not had issues with poor snaps in practice, he and the coaches have said. The sophomore from Nashville started three games at left guard last season before taking over the starting center job for the final five games.
The offseason focus for the left-handed Stone is snapping with his right hand with a traditional grip. He gripped the point of the ball and snapped that way last season. Stone had multiple low snaps against Florida, one high snap that resulted in a loss at a crucial moment against Georgia and another errant snap that Matt Simms grabbed last week against LSU.
"I think one of the real challenges as a coach is coaching the right guys in the right spots and trusting the development," Dooley said. "That requires some early evaluation of who is more natural. We did this back in the summer, and I think because Alex was so new into the system, it was hard for us to bounce him back and forth. We decided just to settle in, and [because] we had a guy that had six games under his belt, it just didn't make sense at the time.
"But we're still showing a lot of inconsistencies. We were hoping those inconsistencies would go away, but they haven't. We can't stick our head in the sand."
Dooley hinted Monday that a change could come at cornerback, and the open part of Tuesday morning's practice fulfilled the coach's words. Prentiss Waggner replaced Marsalis Teague at the corner spot opposite of Izauea Lanier, and freshman Brian Randolph entered the lineup at free safety.
"In certain packages in the base group, I'm going to the corner, and when we go into certain run defenses, I'm going back to the safety," Waggner said. "I'm getting a few reps at the corner this week. I wouldn't necessarily say one or the other suits me best. I have a lot of cover skills, better than I do in the run defense, so I would say the coverage part of corner or safety suits me the best."
Waggner, who said all three corners worked some with the first team Tuesday, was a starting corner until Janzen Jackson's late-August dismissal prompted a move back to safety. Teague, a 14-game starter over the past two seasons, was beaten on some deep passes against Georgia and some shorter routes against LSU. Lanier entered the starting lineup against Buffalo.
Randolph played safety in the second half against the Tigers and made nine tackles.
"He's progressed a lot," Waggner said. "He's coming in, he's making all the checks without the coaches having to be on him so much, he's out here making plays, and I don't think it's much of a drop-off at the safety position with Brian. He's sort of an old-school type of player. He's physical, but he can come down and make plays on the ball also."
Starting in place of the injured Tyler Bray, Matt Simms completed just six of 20 passes in UT's loss to LSU. The senior threw two interceptions and had another easy one dropped. On each of those plays, Simms had a receiver open across the middle.
Tight end Brendan Downs was wide open on a square-in route on the interception that LSU's Morris Claiborne ran back 88 yards. Simms had a checkdown to a running back open on his second interception, and Mychal Rivera was open on a seam route on the dropped pick.
"I felt like I did on a lot of plays, and then on others I felt like I didn't see the field as well as I should have," Simms said. "Obviously, I was a little disappointed in myself for not seeing the field as well on some plays like that, but the bright side is that they're corrections that I can easily fix this week. Just looking forward to the opportunity to fix them."
But Alabama is first or second nationally in the four main defensive categories. Simms, who was his own harshest critic after his first start of the season, said he was overanxious against the Tigers.
"I tried to play it cool like they were just another team, but, hey, I was pumped to go out there and play against them," he said. "There's a lot of NFL players out there on the field on LSU. I was kind of stressing not making the mistake, and that actually ended up causing me to make mistakes."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...