Tuesday Practice Report

A late scrimmage on Tuesday afternoon showed glimpses of many promising things to come.

The Vols passing game looked sharp, even with four-year starter Casey Clausen patrolling the sidelines. Sophomore running back Gerald Riggs also looks like he is emerging as the go-to-guy that made him the nation's top recruit just two years ago.

Head Coach Phillip Fulmer held back his optimism regarding the offensive explosions as he cautiously broke down what he saw during the work-out.

"I think both sides right now have a long way to go," said Fulmer. "Our offense has more guys coming back. They should be a little bit ahead this early."

Fulmer countered by saying his defense wasn't at full strength, too. "We have a number of guys that are not out there right now," said Fulmer.

As for the break-out performance by Riggs, Fulmer downplayed a spectacular showing by the much heralded sophomore.

"It's way too early to say that anybody's done anything to arrive," Fulmer said. "We're making some progress and we've got a good attitude about trying to get better and we've got a ways to go. It's not an individual game, that's an important thing to remember. It takes all eleven to execute a play."

Clausen was a bit more upbeat on Riggs stellar play.

"He definitely needs to be on the field," Clausen said. "He showed a lot today. Just the instinct and vision of being able to make the cuts and the reads of being able to run the football. I think he's headed in the right direction."

As far as the passing game went, C.J. Leak and C.J. Fayton hooked up on a long play that went for a touchdown during 9 on 8 drills. After a couple of years in the program, it looks as if Leak is finally showing a better grasp of the offense.

"It was definitely a step in the right direction," Fulmer said. "He's more comfortable, more on time. It was good to see."

According to Clausen, stretching the defense has been a big priority for the offense this pre-season. The senior signal caller also looks like he's found a few nice targets as well.

"We're focused on getting the ball vertical," Clausen said. "Mark Jones has shown that ability. James Banks is a guy that can get down field and make plays."

The quartet of freshman receivers is also making a big impact on Clausen.

"The thing about those freshman is that they're physical and they compete," Clausen said. "That's something that's encouraging."

On the defensive side of the football, captain Kevin Burnett was held out of the scrimmage with soreness in his hamstring. However, Fulmer doesn't plan on sitting his star linebacker out any longer than he has to.

"He's got to scrimmage, he's got to get himself game ready," said Fulmer.

As for the rest of the defensive units, the same questions still seem to be lingering.

"I wish we were more competitive at corner," Fulmer said. "There's a defensive tackle position to be taken by somebody."

Obviously, corner and defensive tackle are two huge priorities to take care of before opening day. Jason Allen will try to hold off Antwan Stewart and Brandon Johnson in the secondary.

Although the starting slots are not in question up the middle on the defensive line, depth is a major concern. Mondre Dickerson and Greg Jones are the odds on favorites to be the first two on the field. However, with Justin Harrell being out for another five weeks at the least, several players will have a shot to show what they can do.

Among those players, J.T Mapu and Cory Anderson who are converted defensive ends should contend. Walk-on Matt McGlothlin might be the third best player at tackle the Vols have right now. Zarnell Fitch, a junior college transfer will need to pick things up a little quicker.

Tony McDaniel's academic status is another thing that could alleviate some pressure. McDaniel is awaiting word as to whether or not he will be a full qualifier and be able to play right away. As a partial qualifier, he would be allowed to practice but he would have to sit out on Saturday's. Fulmer says he expects to know what McDaniel's status will be before the first game.

Wednesday's scrimmage could go a long way in determining if anybody steps forward. The scrimmage will encompass some goal line work and two-point conversions.

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