UT Offense: Help Wanted

Reestablishing Tennessee's signature power running game is Phillip Fulmer's top priority this spring, and one that figures to be all the tougher while breaking in a new signal caller, rotating green receivers, finding a feature back and rebuilding an offensive line.

Some might suggest that revamping the play book should be included on that list of priorities. Certainly Tennessee will modify the offense to its personnel and streamline game plans, shifting the emphasis to post-snap execution over pre-snap reads and adjustments. It's the type of offense that can get into rhythm and control the flow of a game which perfectly describe the Vols most potent attacks under Fulmer.

As with any multiple offense that strives for balance, the Vols must make the defense cover the entire field by posing an array of threats anyone of which can extract a high price for ignoring one in favor of the others. The quandary for defensive coordinators: if they account for every threat they run the risk of being overpowered at the point of attack whereas if they commit the numbers to stop the run they become vulnerable to big plays.

A lack of playmakers has been the main offensive liability for Tennessee the last two seasons. Compare the Vols' 2001 offense where tailback Travis Stephens, wide receivers Donte Stallworth and Kelley Washington and tight end Jason Witten were Casey Clausen's weapons of choice to the 2003 edition without a consistent run threat (Cedric Houston led with 633 yards or about 900 fewer than Stephens had as a senior). In 2003 Tennessee tight ends made one catch, and the two leading receivers — James Banks and Mark Jones — never played the position in a college game. In fact Banks and Jones combined for 65 catches last fall which is only one more catch than Washington had in 2001 and they finished with exactly the same number of yards 1,010 that Washington produced by himself. Stephens rushed for 284 more yards in 2001 then Houston and Jabari Davis did collectively in 2003.

Perhaps the best example is Clausen himself who connected on a career high 64.2 percent of his passes as a sophomore compared to 57.9 as a senior. He completed a career best 227-of-335 passes for 2,969 as a sophomore compared to 191-of-330 for 2,474 yards as a senior.

These statistics indicate that Clausen was either a better quarterback with two fewer years experience or that he wasn't surrounded with the same talent level. What he did have as a senior was a veteran offensive line that featured three fifth-year seniors, a four-year senior and a pair of four-year juniors. The 2001 Vols only had two seniors in the starting offensive line with three sophomores.

Making up the talent gap between 2001 and 2003 in 2004 is a tall order, although the Vols do appear to have more offensive depth across the board than they had three years ago. They also have a promising class of prospects coming on board this fall that may have more overall impact than any in the Fulmer era.

This week we'll examine how some of these newcomers might answer the call for UT's offensive cause this fall. In the next installment we'll look at the role of H-back in Tennessee's scheme.

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