Vols loaded at QB

A year ago, Tennessee's football team staged spring practice with zero proven quarterbacks. Twelve months later, the Vols have THREE. Erik Ainge, Brent Schaeffer and Rick Clausen produced winning performances as starters last fall.

Naturally, that has head coach Phillip Fulmer grinning from ear to ear these days.

''It's so different than last spring at this time,'' he said this week. ''There was really no significant continuity at all. There was flashes of good play and stuff but Rick (Clausen) and C.J. (Leak) both were learning and kind of getting their feet under them.''

Vol guard Rob Smith says Clausen and Leak were so inexperienced last spring that ''sometimes you had to look back and tell the quarterback what needed to be called.''

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is probably happier than anyone about the abundance of quality QBs this spring. Instead of trying to spoonfeed young quarterbacks, he can spend more time working with the other offensive positions.

''As quarterback coach and coordinator, that's always my first priority in spring practice -- coaching the quarterbacks,'' Sanders said. ''Having three guys you know (are competent) probably frees up a little more time to look at the offensive line, the receivers, the overall picture.''

Another benefit to this surplus is that each guy knows he must beat out two other quality players if he intends to win the first-team job.

''We've got some guys who have played, who have some talent,'' Sanders said. ''The fact we have three creates a lot of competition, and nothing makes you go out and compete on the practice field like a little competition.''

Schaeffer started Tennessee's first three games and went 3-0. Ainge started the next six, going 4-2 before separating his shoulder. Clausen started the final four games, going 3-1 and winning Cotton Bowl MVP honors as Tennessee hammered Texas Tech 38-7 on Jan. 1.

Who's advanced the farthest since the season ended?

''Erik has made a jump because he went a long time without practicing,'' Sanders said. ''He worked hard, and his mental work has paid off. Rick has picked up where he left off, which was pretty dad-goned good in the bowl game. Brent is practicing a little better than he did during bowl practice. He's done a nice job.

''It's an exciting competition.''

Inside Tennessee Top Stories