KNOXVILLE – Tennessee offensive linemen Ja’Wuan James and Zach Fulton will return for their season seasons at Tennessee instead of entering the NFL draft early.
James reported the news himself via Twitter. Multiple reports, including ones from WNML radio in Knoxville and 247Sports, have confirmed the news on Fulton.
The juniors were a key part of UT 2011 offense that finished fourth in the SEC in scoring (36.2 points/game), second in total yardage (475.9 yards/game) and second in passing offense (315.6 yards/game). The Vols were first in the SEC with only eight sacks given up.
The 6-foot-6, 323-pound James, a right tackle, was thought to be a second- to third-round pick had he entered the NFL draft early. He is currently ranked as the 13th overall offensive tackle for the 2014 class by NFLDraftScout.com.
“Blessed to have another year to get better and another opportunity at winning a championship,” James said via Twitter on Monday. “I gotta [sic] take advantage of it.”
Meanwhile, Fulton, a 6-foot-5, 324-pound right guard, looked into his draft possibilities but decided to return after seeing the results. He is rated as the third-best guard for the class of 2014 by NFLDraftScout.com.
Though keeping quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter will be a tougher task, the news on Fulton and James is a positive first step for head coach Butch Jones and offensive line coach Don Mahoney. James had been outspoken in his support of keeping former offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who is now an assistant at Arkansas.
“We’ve talked about getting together to lobby [AD Dave Hart] about keeping Coach Pittman,” James said on Nov. 19, shortly after learning of the dismissal of former head coach Derek Dooley.
The Vols will now return all of their top linemen with the exception of senior left guard Dallas Thomas and will likely have the most experienced offensive line in the SEC next season in term of total starts. The projected starting line will include James and Fulton on the ride side, senior James Stone at center, junior Tiny Richardson at left tackle and either junior Marcus Jackson or senior Alex Bullard at left guard.