Frosh QBs face tough task

Randy Sanders isn't dismissing the possibility that a true freshman could start at quarterback this fall but Tennessee's offensive coordinator is clearly skeptical.

The Big Orange recently signed two quality QBs (Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge) who will be joining the mix in August. But they'll step to the starting line half-a-lap behind the veteran QBs who are currently participating in spring practice.

''It would be very tough for a new guy to come in and get ready in four weeks,'' Sanders said, referring to the preseason camp in August. ''Since they aren't going to have the opportunity to go through spring practice, that makes it tougher. Four weeks would be really pushing it. Seven weeks (spring practice AND preseason camp) ... I think you can get somebody ready in that time.''

Senior C.J. Leak and junior Rick Clausen are 1-2 as spring drills began. Their battle for supremacy figures to be a real dogfight.

''I think it's going to be a very competitive situation,'' Sanders said. ''C.J.'s obviously the frontrunner and the guy to beat. He's certainly going to get every opportunity to do it. I don't think Coach Fulmer's ready to make him the starter at this point but it's going to be a very competitive situation between him and Rick (Clausen) and James (Banks) and whoever else.''

This isn't the first time the Big Orange has entered spring drills with a muddled QB picture. Following Tee Martin's departure, the Vols entered the spring of 2000 with Joey Mathews and A.J. Suggs battling two freshmen who enrolled at mid-term -- Casey Clausen and John Rattay.

The Vols staged another QB derby in 1992, when Jerry Colquitt squared off against Heath Shuler. Sanders remembers that they came from ''opposite ends of the spectrum'' in terms of their quarterbacking skills.

''Heath was very athletic; Jerry was talented but maybe a little bit more cerebral,'' Sanders recalled. ''You almost had different offenses for different guys.''

That's not the case with Leak and Clausen, even though the former is blessed with a bigger frame and a stronger arm.

''In this competition we've got a couple of guys that are pretty similar; they're not going to absolutely blow anybody away with their physical skills,'' Sanders said. ''It's a deal where they're going to have to do things right, play with great effort and get the other people in the right positions.''

Whether the QB role falls to Leak, Clausen, Schaeffer or Ainge, the Vols will be relatively inexperienced behind center in 2004. As a result, Tennessee's staff will try to take pressure off the quarterback by demanding more of the other offensive players.

''I've got a big challenge in coaching those guys,'' Sanders said. ''And our whole offense has a challenge to make their job easier -- running the ball, taking a few checks off of them and putting a little bit more on somebody else and having receivers make some plays for us.''

Settling on a quarterback figures to be quite a challenge. Sanders admits that just dividing the practice repetitions will be a chore.

''Trying to split reps and be fair about that,'' he said, ''is probably one of the hardest things about the competition.''

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