Fulmer on QB situation

Tennessee's football program is without a proven quarterback heading into the 2004 season but Phillip Fulmer has traveled this path before. He recalled one of those occasions at a Saturday morning news conference to mark the opening of preseason drills.

As Fulmer recalled: ''Al Wilson told me back in 1998: 'Coach, it really doesn't matter who are quarterback is going to be. We're not going to let him fail.' ''

The head man is hoping the rest of the team will adopt a similar attitude in 2004.

''I want our football team to take that challenge, as well,'' Fulmer said. ''I want it to be the responsibility of everybody to rally around our quarterback and play the very best they can to help our quarterback situation to work.''

Fulmer noted that there is ''a lot of swirl around the quarterback situation, and I think that's normal. Whoever the quarterback ends up being, it's going to be a new guy.''

For now, the No. 1 quarterback is C.J. Leak, a sixth-year senior who had a good -- though somewhat erratic -- spring.

''C.J. Leak made significant progress in spring practice,'' Fulmer said. ''For nine straight days he did really, really well. He had a couple of bad days that weren't typical of what he'd done during the spring, but then he got back on his feet the 13th, 14th and 15th practices of the spring. His challenge is to be efficient, avoid bad plays and make some good plays.''

LSU transfer Rick Clausen finished spring practice second-team but, according to Fulmer, ''is certainly in that battle. He needs to throw the football better but his demeanor and understanding are certainly what you're looking for.''

Redshirt freshman Bo Hardegree, No. 3 on the depth chart following spring ball, is facing an uphill battle. Fulmer called Hardegree ''a very athletic guy who is bright and has matured considerably.'' However, Hardegree's practice repetitions in preseason will be limited, Fulmer noted, because the Vol staff will be giving so many reps to incoming freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer.

The head man said Ainge and Schaeffer ''will get every opportunity to see where they are. There's obviously a lot of potential there, and we have got to get them enough learning time to see how they're going to manage and how quickly they're going to progress.''

In an effort to accelerate the progress of the two newcomers, Fulmer said there will be no green jerseys protecting them from being tackled in practice.

''I want them to operate in as close to game conditions as we can (simulate),'' the head man said. ''We want to know who's going to be the most efficient and make the fewest mistakes, who's going to be the best playmaker, the best leader and also who's going to best person to help us win the Southeastern Conference championship.''

Although he admitted that the selection of a first-team QB ''could go right up to game time,'' Fulmer said he'd prefer to settle on a starter within two weeks, ''so he'll have time to get himself ready.''

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