Warren would be huge addition for Vols

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Wrapping up the day with a few thoughts, notes and leftovers from Tennessee's first practice of the preseason and the Vols' media day. Remember, I'll be in Athens on Monday for Georgia's first practice and the Bulldogs' media day:

  • The early returns on tight end Brandon Warren are that the Vols had better get him eligible. The Florida State transfer is a physical specimen and catches everything. Talk about a matchup nightmare for defenses. If he's cleared, he has a chance to be one of Tennessee's most dynamic offensive weapons this season.

The tight ends are critical to what the Vols want to do on offense this season, and junior Jeff Cottam, sophomore Luke Stocker and freshman Aaron Douglas all factor into those plans.

"Everybody wants to have that tight end that can mismatch a linebacker or get vertical," Fulmer said. "With all the zone pressure you're seeing now, that guy is really important."

Fulmer said tight end Brad Cottam's injury in the preseason last year dramatically affected the Vols' offensive plans.

"People have no idea how much that hurt us," he said.

  • It's safe to say that Fulmer is just about over waiting on some sort of answer on Warren. Fulmer said the SEC has to first rule on Warren, and then it goes to the NCAA.

"That's just the normal process, but it's time we got an answer," said Fulmer, noting the appeal was filed in June.

To play this season, Warren needs a hardship waiver from the SEC on the progress-toward-degree rule because he left Florida State early to be closer to his mother, who had a cancerous kidney removed. She lives in nearby Alcoa.

The NCAA question has to do with Warren not meeting the one-year residency requirement as a freshman at Florida State. He left in February of 2007 and didn't play football anywhere last season.

Tennessee officials remain optimistic that they'll get a favorable ruling on both counts.

"To me, it's an absolute no-brainer," Fulmer said.

Warren, who weighed in at 222 pounds to start preseason camp, said the most important thing was getting closer to his mother.

"You make sacrifices in life sometimes," said Warren, who took classes at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville after leaving Florida State. "I'm just glad I'm here, and I feel like it's all going to work out."

  • It was almost surreal for Gerald Williams on Saturday. There he was in a Tennessee uniform going through picture day with the rest of his teammates.

Williams, who turns 22 in September, first signed with the Vols in February of 2005 and had to go through prep school, junior college and a series of eligibility fights to make it back. Williams' initial stumbling block was that he received credit hours from University High in Miami, a "diploma mill" the NCAA has since shut down.

But nearly three and a half years later, he's just one math class away from being eligible this season. Williams is finishing up that class now and said there won't be any problems.

"We're a family," Williams said. "Look around, we're laughing and kicking it together, and who wouldn't want to play in Neyland Stadium with 109,000 people at the game shouting no matter who you play? I wanted to leave my heart here. I knew that I was going to do my job to get back."

  • The big question now: How good is Williams, who will start out at middle linebacker and also get a chance to rush the passer off the edge?

"I'm not great, but I'm good," Williams said. "When you're great, you're probably retired and in the Hall of Fame. My role is being a leader and helping the team out as much as possible."

Fulmer envisions using the 6-4, 240-pound Williams similar to the way the Vols used Jerod Mayo a year ago.

"Mayo was our best pass-rusher last year," Fulmer said. "You move him from the (middle) up on the edge and let him rush. So, yeah, I think Gerald can do all those things. We'll play him where we need him the most."

  • Much has been said and written about how talented sophomore Eric Berry is, but none of it has gone to his head.

He's as real now as he was a year ago when his head was spinning as a true freshman.

Berry was talking earlier Saturday about his worst and best games last season, and somebody asked if the SEC championship game against LSU was his best. Berry was all over the place in that game and had some monster hits.

Berry acknowledged that he graded out pretty well in that game, but offered up unsolicited that his bust led to LSU's only offensive touchdown of the game, Ryan Perrilloux's 27-yard pass to Demetrius Byrd in the third quarter.

"I had a critical error. I didn't take the right angle," Berry said.

Talk about a guy with a winning attitude.

  • The SEC schedule is tough enough for Fulmer, but playing a major non-conference opponent like UCLA in the first game has more advantages than disadvantages.

The Vols open the season against the Bruins in the Rose Bowl on Sept. 1, a Monday night game on ESPN.

"I like it. We'll find out an awful lot about our team," said Fulmer, whose Vols went to Cal and lost last season in the opener. "It's not like you go kick the crap out of somebody that's not very good and come back and say, 'Well, at least our second team got to play and this and that.' You can do that in a scrimmage. In a big game like this, it's for real."