SALT LAKE CITY — John Cullen found himself in an awkward situation of sorts. The highly touted offensive lineman arrived at the University of Utah with high expectations and the starting job at left tackle.
Ranked as the No. 1 junior college offensive lineman by rivals.com, the 6-foot-5, 285-pounder cast an immediate shadow.
"If I was here and they're like, 'We're bringing in a guy, and he's going to start,' I would be like 'I've been here. What's the deal with that?' " Cullen said.
The deal, however, fell under less scrutiny when Cullen participated in Utah's summer conditioning program.
"No one gave me any problems or anything like that. All they wanted to see was if I was going to put in the work," Cullen said. "I did that in summer conditioning. I worked out every day, didn't miss a day, wasn't late and put in the work with all the guys. I tried to work as hard as everyone."
It made quite an impression.
"People understood I wasn't going to come in like some big shot, like I'm better than the team," Cullen said.
Ticketed as the replacement for Zane Beadles, who is now with the NFL's Denver Broncos, Cullen is fitting right in.
"He's making a good transition. He's everything we hoped he would be — at least at this point in time," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's still got a ways to go, but he's doing a nice job. He's picking things up quickly."
Although slow a bit after tweaking his knee a couple of days ago in camp, Cullen is busy adjusting to major college football.
"I'll be honest, I didn't expect this. I didn't expect the difficulty and the talent level. No offense to our players — they're great players — I just didn't expect it to be such a jump," Cullen said. "I haven't had one day where I'm like, 'this is nothing.' These are great, great, great players, and I have to work and get better, step up my game for sure."
While making a name for himself at Fullerton College (Calif.), Cullen drew national attention. Tennessee and USC were among the programs showing considerable interest in Cullen before he opted for Utah.
"I just loved it," Cullen said. "This is just the place for me."
The Utes were among the first to start recruiting him. They made him feel comfortable from the beginning.
The chance to come in and start wasn't much of a factor. Almost every school that recruited Cullen made the same offer.
"That's what they told me the whole recruiting process," he explained. "So I knew I was going to be put in the starting spot and then show that I deserve it."
Now, he noted, it's "just time to prove myself."
It's a work in progress as Cullen makes the jump from junior college ball.
"My talent level there was I could take a bad step and make up for it and still block the guy. I could not have a perfect pass set and still block the guy," he said. "Here you have to take perfect pass sets. You have to take perfect zone steps to block these guys or you're going to be out of position and they are going to take advantage of you.
"So that's one of the things that I'm getting used to — is doing everything right every time," Cullen continued. "And that's just going to come with repetition and in work out here."