March 29, 2008

Teaching Clawson sees signs of progress

Always teaching, Dave Clawson released into an impromptu five-step drop Saturday inside Neyland Stadium and explained why he thought his first edition of Tennessee's offense moved forward in the team's first spring scrimmage.

"The way I watch the play is that I read the play as if I'm the quarterback, and is the ball going where the ball should go," said the former Richmond head coach, one of four new Vols offensive coaches hired this offseason. "If it does, then it's my general feeling that they played well. And if I'm looking over here and the ball is going over there, then I'm saying, 'What are you looking at?'

"For the most part today, we were always looking where the ball was going."

As is typical with early scrimmages, the defense appeared ahead of the offense, but Clawson's offense had several bright spots on a dreary afternoon overshadowed by another injury -- David Holbert's gruesome left-knee injury.

Jonathan Crompton[/db[ had a 7-yard interception to offset an earlier interception to [db]Demetrice Morley, and Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman combined to complete 14 of 24 passes for 149 yards. Solid for an offense that isn't quite to the midpoint of its installation.

"I would say we probably have about 40 percent of it in now, and I think by the next scrimmage we'd like to have maybe 60 to 70 percent of it in," Clawson said of his versatile system which produced a 4,000-yard passer and 2,000-yard rusher in previous versions. "Then we'll go from there. We probably won't get everything in just because you've got to get personnel. We were going to do a lot of two tight end stuff, and now Jeff Cottam (who broke his leg on Thursday) isn't there, so we've got to adjust. We're going to put this play in, and now we're going to put this play in because of who we have.

"Today we lost David Holbert, and as the scrimmage went on, we ran a lot more three-receiver sets because that's what we have."

New tight ends coach Jason Michael, a bright young football mind who won a national championship earlier this decade as Western Kentucky's starting quarterback, liked how the offense valued possession -- just one interception -- and quarterbacks got a valuable learning tool.

"You're always trying, every goal of an offense every year is ball security. You want to do the little things that make the difference," said Michael, a three-year NFL assistant before returning to Knoxville. "It's a different deal from practice tempo to scrimmage tempo when you're dealing with those substitutions, going in and out of the huddle. The game speeds up. It's a game situation now.

"Practice is great in the sense of getting slower reps that you can teach off of, but when you get out there now, all that stuff is a building process. And this first scrimmage is a building block for what we've done in those first five practices. You try to take a little bit and learn and now it's more game-like."

With coaches relying on last season's depth chart for the playing rotation in this scrimmage, Stephens took a positive step in some of his most meaningful work since arriving on campus.

"He's been good. He worked hard, and I thought he played pretty well today," said Clawson, who indicated the true revelation would come with film study of the scrimmage. "When he was in there, he drove the team down, and I thought he had a good day."
Stephens also impressed head coach

Phillip Fulmer, who mostly reserved judgment until reviewing the work.

"I need to see the tape, I don't know that it was an outstanding day," Fulmer said. "It looked like Nick Stephens made some plays to extend drives. There was nothing that was necessarily displeasing but nothing we thought was outstanding either. But we only have about half the offense in."

Clearly energized, Stephens liked the offense's overall statement on its first major showcase. He completed five of eight passes for 54 yards and led a drive that culminated in Kevin Cooper's scoring plunge.

"After today, that was good, I thought. That was really good, I thought," said the Flower Mound, Texas, native. "Coming out here, first time scrimmaging, we did a lot of positive things. I'm sure we'll look at the film and there will be a lot of things we need to work on. But overall, there were a lot of positive things."

Completing seven of his 15 tosses for 55 yards, a touchdown and a pick, Crompton looked forward to grading his performance tonight.

"I love sitting down and grading myself, saying 'OK, I did this good, but I also did this bad.' The bad normally outweighs the good, so you've got to get better on those," he said. "And when you get better on those, you can go work on the good."

There were enough different formations that even the Vols defense benefited from Clawson's new system.

"It was a lot more game like. With the new wide receiver coach (Latrell Scott), he has a lot of different route stems. It's a lot harder to read their alignments on the field," sophomore defensive back Eric Berry said. "You could read last year what routes the receivers were running by their alignments. Right now it is more different and more game like because we are having to read and react which makes us better."

Though there were more new looks from the Vols' passing sets, their running game was extremely basic -- two plays.
But even that showed Clawson what he had hoped to see.

"We only have two plays to run, and at times we're running them against looks that we wouldn't run them against," Clawson said. "Until you have the plays in that you would run against those looks, you just run them and try to survive. And I told them, at times we just wanted to see a play and at times we're putting you in bad situations because we're running plays against looks, but as long as you play fast and play hard, we'll get to the other stuff."

Offensive Notes: Josh Briscoe paced the wideouts with five catches for 83 yards, including a 48-yarder from Coleman down the left sideline where he made a nice juke that left a defender on his backside. He also had a sparkling catch near midfield where he came back to the ball, eluded a defender and helped move the sticks. Gerald Jones added five catches for 25 yards and Quintin Hancock three for 26. ... Daryl Vereen had 20 rushing yards on nine carries while Montario Hardesty added 17 yards on five carries, one of them a smooth run where he switched directions and cut into the middle of the field for extra yardage.

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