April 5, 2008

Turnovers stall offensive progress

The conclusion of Tennessee's second major intrasquad scrimmage Saturday sounded more like a Hollywood movie review.

On a day in which UT's top three quarterbacks were intercepted four times and generated just one meaningful scoring drive inside soggy Neyland Stadium, coaches and players alike couldn't wait to get a look at the film.

Though Phillip Fulmer offered a pretty candid initial reaction to the defensive overpowering that characterized the second of UT's four major exhibitions that conclude with the Orange and White Game on April 19.

"I learned a long time ago not to say too much until you watch the tape, but today was a royal butt-kicking, from the standpoint of the offense not taking care of the football and not having sustained drives," said Fulmer. "There were a couple of series there where we got some things going, but it was definitely the defense's day. That's great to see, because you win championships with defense.

"But you can darn sure lose championships by not taking care of the football, and we did not do a very good job of that."

Jonathan Crompton, who again opened the scrimmage under center, tossed three picks and connected on 10 of 18 passes for 108 yards. He had a 7-yard scoring toss -- this one to Josh Briscoe -- for the second consecutive week and a 50-yard connection to tight end Luke Stocker.

"I think if you take away the interceptions, we actually moved the ball better today and had a little bit of a running game going," said first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. "But you can't eliminate the interceptions. The No. 1 goal is we have to win the turnover battle, and we turned it over too often today. Part of that was bad decision-making on the quarterback, and part of that were guys slipping on routes.

"Those are things that can't happen if you're going to win football games. We'll learn from it, grow from it and hopefully be better in a week."

Clawson estimated about two-thirds of his offensive package had been installed

"I felt the huddle operation was a little bit faster. I felt like we ran more good plays, but it's a work in progress," said the former Richmond coach, who anticipates having 90 percent of his system in place for next week's scrimmage. "We'll just continue to install the offense and stay on schedule and hopefully we'll get better every week."

Backup signal-callers Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman combined to complete 21 of 32 passes for 155 yards. Coleman had the fourth pick of the Vols' top three quarterbacks; a bad decision on a coverage read led to the interception, he said.

"What happened is I read two safeties and the zone blitz, and I should have hit the comeback and played a little bit faster," the Chattanooga native said. "It was my fault, just technical stuff that can be fixed."

Stephens was interception-free for the second consecutive week and had effective stretches guiding the offense in finishing 9 of 14 for 92 yards.

"We played well, we moved the ball. We just can't turn the ball over, and that will obviously beat us," said Stephens, 14-for-22 with 144 passing yards in two scrimmages. "No matter how well we move the ball, if we turn the ball over that many times, we won't win unless something just unreal happens. We're working on our fundamentals and getting this offense down the way we want to. As long as we take care of the ball, we'll be all right."

Part of the problems on Saturday stemmed from receiver mistakes. A couple of interceptions occurred when receivers slipped, which appeared to be the case on Dennis Rogan's 82-yard pick-six. De'Angelo Willingham had two interceptions.

There were also some dropped passes, though touted freshman Ahmad Paige had seven receptions for 73 yards, including a sterling catch from Stephens for a big gain down the right sideline.

"(Paige) is getting better," Fulmer said. "He has a million miles to go. I was real disappointed in the Tuesday scrimmage till I watched the film and he was blocking everybody. I told him if you can't catch it, we will make you a wide blocker instead of a wide receiver. I think he thought today he needed to catch the ball."

With nine carries for 45 yards, senior Arian Foster almost doubled the production of Tennessee's three other ball carriers. Lennon Creer, Tauren Poole and Daryl Vereen had just 26 yards on 22 carries.

"(Foster) really, I thought, stepped his play up and made some people miss," Clawson said. "He looked good."

NEW HOME: Freshman Austin Johnson has moved from linebacker to fullback, a move Fulmer thinks will allow the 6-foot-2, 242-pound Johnson to help the Vols right away.

"He's intelligent," Fulmer said. "For just being over there a few days he has picked it up really well. He is a tough guy. He is athletic and can catch the ball. He is not afraid. He has to get a lot stronger.

"He has to work on that this summer, but I think he will help us this year on offense and he will help us on special teams."

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