The Vols under-achieved by many folks estimation in 2002. Captain Casey Clausen returns as QB and looks to get back a top the heap in the SEC East. Clausen has had an up and down spring and has struggled at times with accuracy. He threw several picks this spring in the organized scrimmages. Clausen is a lock as a starter, but unless he calms down, the Vols could see a similar result as 3rd in the East again this year.
One huge advantage Clausen and the Vols have is a stable of talented backs. A few of the backs are on the mend this off season including Jabari Davis, who suffered a broken hand. Cedric Houston appears to still be the lead tailback, but he was slowed by a nagging ankle injury most of the spring. These injuries opened up some chances for some reserves like Troy Fleming, who earned high praise from Coach Fulmer. Another back that showed promise was converted DB Corey Larkins. Larkins showed flashes of greatness, but was plagued with fumbles most of the session.
The Vols have some work to do at wideout, but Mark Jones seems ready to emerge as the go to guy. Jones and Clausen hooked up several times and Jones showed great big play ability. The offense needs to gel to showcase this wealth of talent. The Orange snuck by the White 7-0 in the spring game. Many expected the defense to be strong, but not that strong. It will be interesting to see if this group is hitting on all cylinders when conference play starts.
For the seniors in Lexington this was their 3rd new system and new coach in 4 years. New head man Rich Brooks installed most of his play packages and kept the starters all on the same team in the spring game, which resulted in a 38-0 shelling of the walk-ons and reserves. The poor White team managed just 68 yards on offense. There are two schools of thought about spring games, and these type games get the alumni all up in a tizzy.
The offense saw Lorenzen and Boyd both split time at QB and oddly enough, both completed a pass to each other. Lorenzen hit Boyd for a 58-yard strike to set up a score and Boyd hit Lorenzen on a short TD pass. These plays may even stay in the package for use in the regular season.
All-everything kick returner Derek Abney returns to terrorize the opposition. Abney was the leading receiver in the spring and had 8 catches in the Blue and White game.
One huge task for coach Brooks is replacing Artose Pinner. The early returns show Alexis Bwenge as the leading candidate at tailback. Pinner was the bell cow for the 'Cats. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.
Coach Bobby Johnson was very candid at the end of spring practice in regards to his team's needs. The key word is depth. The Commodores are real thin on both sides of the trenches and at linebacker. Coach Johnson is depending heavily on some of the incoming freshmen to contribute.
Jay Cutler returns at QB for the 2nd straight year. Cutler will have to fine a new favorite target to replace Dan Stricker. Erik Davis appears to be the leader at this point, but a battle should emerge in the fall.
Vandy has no official spring game, but has Fan Appreciation Day, which features a glorified scrimmage called the Black and Gold game. No score is kept and it's pretty similar to what MSU does.
Vandy has a lot of needs and may be a year or two away from winning a conference game, but the core group is all very young. In fact, the team elected a junior and two sophomores as captains this season.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.