How much will open date help?

There is no doubt that Tennessee's banged-up offensive line benefited from last Saturday's open date. It also should help junior quarterback Rick Clausen, who will make his first start for the Vols this weekend at Vanderbilt.

Clausen was thrust into the Nov. 6 Notre Dame game when Erik Ainge suffered a separated shoulder on the final play of the first half. After playing the entire second half as an emergency fill-in, Clausen should be much better prepared now that the coaching staff has had nearly two weeks to retool the offense so it can better exploit his skills and cover his weaknesses.

Asked how much better prepared he is now, Clausen hedged.

''I don't know,'' he said. ''I felt pretty prepared against Notre Dame. We just missed opportunities. It was a little bit here and a little bit there.''

Perhaps. But offensive coordinator Randy Sanders believes the past two weeks have benefited Clausen quite a bit.

''It helped,'' the Vol aide said. ''Just getting the extra practice repetitions was beneficial for him. But it's hard to say it was a benefit for him working with the first team because about two-thirds of the first team wasn't at practice. They were in the training room trying to get healthy.''

Even so, the coordinator believes Clausen is prepared to do a good job this weekend:

''I expect Rick to go out and play well ... the way he did the second half against Notre Dame.''

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