April 12, 2008

Coaches: Offense makes biggest jump

The goal for Tennessee on Saturday wasn't about seeing the Dave Clawson offense, even if some 90 percent of the first-year offensive coordinator's system has been programmed into the Vols.

Rather, coaches wanted to further identify the playmakers who can help Tennessee when it opens the season Sept. 1 at UCLA.

So Gerald Jones got exponentially more touches. The defense got its paws on considerably less.

And Tennessee's top three ball-carriers combined for 130 yards on 34 carries in the Volunteers' final scrimmage before next Saturday's Orange and White game.

All were signs of encouragement for UT's coaching staff, which didn't repeat a formation until the 12th play because it wanted to ensure smooth transitions from the huddle to the line of scrimmage. In last week's scrimmage, Tennessee would have had multiple 12-men-in-the-huddle penalties under regular playing rules.

"I thought we got better this week. I thought our offense, I thought we played a little faster," said Clawson, whose unit last week was plagued with turnovers but was more efficient in this scrimmage. "It looked like guys knew what they were doing. This is still a work--in-progress, and we're obviously not where we need to be but I think we took a step forward this week."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer also derived positives from the lengthy scrimmage that saw Jones catch a TD pass, score on a blocked punt and dart untouched down the right sideline on a fake punt. Jones closed with seven catches for 55 yards.

"We managed the clock well and made a couple of plays," Fulmer said. "Made a play in the two-minute drill. Made the play to win the game in the overtime. It was better."

Reviews of the performance by starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton also were better, though Crompton tossed his fifth interception of the three spring exhibitions on the team's first series. That was a combination of a busted route and unnecessary throw, according to several players and coaches.

But Crompton capped a scoring drive with a 1-yard plunge on third-and-goal and closed the afternoon 17-of-22 for 146 yards as the Vols' quarterbacks went "live" for most of the scrimmage with no protective green jerseys.

"Actually, (Crompton) got off to a great start except for one play. I think we leave this scrimmage feeling really great about what he did if you take away a bad play," said Clawson, who has installed nearly 90 percent of his system. "But how many football games can you say, 'Boy you would've won the game if …'? We've got to eliminate that one play.

"It's different. Erik (Ainge) played every snap here for how long? It's one things to know the plays and have physical talents and be able to make throws. It's another thing at the quarterback position to be able to manage a game 60 to 65 to 80 snaps a game, and that's what he's learning to do. That's why every time he comes out here and gets 50 to 60 snaps, it's great for him."

Preferring to examine the film before offering much insight on the scrimmage, Crompton did say he believes the offense is moving forward.

"That's our goal, we're just trying to get better every day," said Crompton, "and of what Coach Clawson said, he thinks we did so that's the main goal, what he thinks. But I think we're getting better every day."

Backup quarterback Nick Stephens remained the only quarterback among UT's top three who has not thrown an interception in the three scrimmages. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns to Jones and Quintin Hancock, but he at times appeared to struggle with clock management and getting the offense in position to succeed.

"Personnel mishaps, just some things, that's what I'm talking about, that we've got to cut out or we're not going to move the football," Stephens said. "Once we get rid of that, we'll be all right.

"Even Coach said we made our biggest progress from last scrimmage to this scrimmage. I do feel that. We had our plays and we had our great plays. We've just got to keep going and keep doing what we're doing."

B.J. Colemanhad his toughest day of the spring, completing only seven of 19 passes for 41 yards. He was picked on a brilliant play by linebacker Rico McCoy, who jumped the route near the sideline and dashed to the end zone from near midfield.

The Vols' most productive running day of the spring came on the heels of this week's news that talented junior Montario Hardesty would miss the remainder of spring drills with a broken bone in his left foot. Coaches continued to pace veteran Arian Foster, who broke contain on several runs and closed with 38 yards on seven totes.

Sophomore Lennon Creer and freshman Tauren Poole impressed coaches with both their explosiveness and ruggedness. Creer had roughly a 40-yard sprint midway through the scrimmage and capped the exhibition with a dazzling score on which he patiently set up his blocks before he cruised to paydirt.

Poole repeatedly pinged off defenders and required multiple defenders to bring to the ground. He closed with 45 yards on 17 carries but left a far greater impression on the offensive coordinator.

"(Poole) had some good runs. He was a little hurt early (in spring), and then every week he seems like he gets a little stronger and he picks up things and he's playing faster," Clawson said. "I just think that's where we are as a whole offense. As much as we're running similar plays and running similar concepts, because we're calling it different stuff there's a little bit of a process and it isn't letting guys play full speed.

"Again, we're not where we need to be but I thought it just looked like we played faster today."

BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OR GROUND LEVEL? Clawson has yet to determine if he will remain on the field during the season or call plays from the coaches' box in the press box. He sees pros and cons to both, but he likes the ability to communicate directly with his players, particularly quarterbacks, from the field level.

O/W INFO: Tennessee closes one of its more intriguing spring camps in recent years with next Saturday's Orange and White game, set for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff inside Neyland Stadium. Admission is free to the public. In addition to the scrimmage, fans can get a look at the ongoing renovations to Neyland Stadium, which has seen virtually all of the interior brickwork designed to ring the stadium concluded.
The annual Fans Day autograph and photo session from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. has been moved to Haslam Field because of the construction. The Vols' practice field is located between Lindsey Nelson Stadium and the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.

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