Vols Trailing Field in 2004 QB Derby

As Tennessee's search for a topnotch signal caller to follow in the footsteps of Casey Clausen, who followed Tee Martin, who followed Peyton Manning, who followed Heath Shuler, winds its way into year two, the Vols are reexamining their options.

The aforementioned UT greats were all rated among the nation's top five prospects at their position while Shuler and Manning were generally regarded as the No. 1 QB prospects in their respective classes of 1991 and 1994. Despite a stockpile of outstanding offensive talent at running back, receiver and the O-line, plus a golden opportunity to start as a true freshman, Tennessee has yet to convince a premier prospect to hop aboard the Big Orange Express.

Anthony Morelli, rated the nation's No. 3 quarterback by The Insiders, still has Tennessee on his list but has indicated he will commit to Pittsburgh. Fellow Keystone State prodigy No. 4 Chad Henne turned down UT for Michigan. No. 6 Drew Weatherford decided to stay home and play for Florida State after briefly considering the Vols. No. 7 Bobby Reid is committed to Oklahoma State and No. 8 Xavier Lee appears poised to challenge Weatherford for the job at FSU. No. 10 Cornelius Ingram is looking at UT along with five other schools. No. 12 Chase Patton of Columbia, Mo. and No. 13 Brian Brohm of Louisville are the two names most often mentioned as Clausen's heir apparent, but both prospects are seriously weighing offers from hometown schools and neither appears in a hurry to make a decision. No. 14 Nick Patton of Winfield, Kan., still lists Tennessee as one of his five finalists, but so are Kansas and Kansas State. He's also looking at Iowa, Missouri and Michigan State all of which are closer to his home than Knoxville.

An intriguing prospect who is gaining stature is No. 30 Alex Mortensen of Landmark Christian High School in Fairburn, Ga. At 6-2, 191, with 4.68 speed Mortensen has adequate size and good mobility. Moreover, he's a heady player and a very accurate passer. The son of ESPN's NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, Alex has an excellent grasp of the game and he posted some impressive numbers as a junior — connecting on 151 of 241 pass attempts for 2,270 yards and 25 touchdowns against just six interceptions as Landmark posted an 11-1 record.

"There are a lot of things that make a quarterback successful," Mortensen said. "Decision making, reads, coverages, vision to see the field, accuracy and so forth. I think I do these things pretty well. There isn't a throw I can't make. I just turned 17 and I am still growing and developing."

A standout student, Mortensen carries a 3.95 GPA and has a long list of schools he's considering including Arkansas, N.C. State, Arizona State, Auburn, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisville, LSU, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

"Alex's goal is to make a decision before his season opener (Aug. 29)," said Chris, "but he's not going to make a bad decision."

The problem for Alex is that he currently has offers from just two of his favorites. And according to the latest available information, Tennessee is not one of those schools.

The next most viable high school QB prospect for the Vols is Smyrna's David Wolke who checks in at No. 37 with The Insiders, but is rated higher by other recruiting services. Tennessee has yet to offer Wolke and may be waiting for a disposition on Brohm, Ingram and the Pattons before extending one. Wolke does have offers from Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Syracuse and may not be available if UT does come calling.

Any other high school quarterbacks being mentioned with Tennessee are non ranked players and are more likely to be signed for other positions if the Vols were to offer.

Unless Tennessee can land an impact passer, it's highly doubtful they will sign two high school quarterback prospects since they already have freshman Bo Hardegree in development along with junior transfer Rick Clausen. C.J. Leak will be a senior next year, but he offers little in the way of game experience. James Banks is making great strides at receiver, but appears the most viable candidate to start at quarterback next fall in the absence of a premier signee.

UT's coaching staff is also evaluating the Junior College ranks for quarterback prospects with the idea of signing a mid-term graduate who can participate in spring practice and help stabilize the position next fall. To fully appreciate just how unusual Tennessee's situation is, consider that the Vols haven't signed a JC QB since Steve Alatorre in 1980. A two-year starter, Alatorre bridged the gap for the Vols between Jimmy Streater and Alan Cockrell.

At this point, the Vols aren't pushing the panic button over the lack of a top caliber signal caller, but they are pushing the envelop.

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