Slick Rick's on a roll

You can make a pretty good case that the most impressive performer in Tennessee's first two full-scale scrimmages of the preseason has been a guy who wasn't expected to start.

Rick Clausen, who spent most of 2004 as the Vols' No. 3 quarterback and was projected to be No. 2 behind Erik Ainge in 2005, has been coolly efficient in the first two game-type workouts – completing 10 of 13 passes for 159 yards in the first scrimmage, 10 of 15 for 180 yards in the second.

Everyone seems impressed with his scrimmage performances, except perhaps Rick himself.

Noting that a scrimmage is "a glorified practice, basically," he added: "We try to get it as live as possible but, ultimately, we're going against the same defense. They know what we're doing and we know what they're doing. But it makes us be more patient and understand what we've got to do."

Clausen's patience may be his greatest attribute. Whereas Ainge tends to zip the ball downfield in hopes of making a big play, Clausen tends to rely on short tosses that his backs and receivers sometimes turn into big plays. A perfect example occurred in the Cotton Bowl last January, when he hit C.J. Fayton with a quick hitch that Fayton turned into a 54-yard touchdown play. Another prime example occurred in Saturday night's scrimmage, when Clausen hit Robert Meachem with a 20-yard pass that Meachem took another 37 yards.

Being a fifth-year senior, Clausen understands the game better than most QBs.. Noting a coverage he could exploit Saturday night, he checked to a different play and promptly completed the throw to Meachem. Another time he noted single coverage on the outside and audibled to a deep pass that speedy freshman Lucas Taylor reeled in for a 41-yard touchdown.

"I checked to ‘em both times," Clausen said of the two big plays. "The one to Lucas, I think he put it in a whole ‘nother gear. I just put it out there for him. And the one to Meachem … I'm just giving guys opportunities to make plays. That's our biggest asset as quarterbacks. We have playmakers out there; we just have to get ‘em the ball."

Blessed with good field vision and awareness, Clausen doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He made one Saturday night, however, throwing a ball over the middle that was intercepted by safety Jonathan Hefney.

"I saw everything really good except the pick I threw to Hefney," Clausen said. "I thought the other safety came down but Hefney came down. I never saw him and threw it because I thought Chris (Hannon) was going to be open. I've just got to see the backside safety a little bit more."

Clausen's savvy and Ainge's raw talent have kept them battling neck and neck for the first-team QB job since last spring. So, who'll be the quarterback Sept. 3? Clausen has no idea, but he doesn't seem overly concerned about it.

"I don't know," he said. "That's Coach Fulmer's decision, Coach Sanders' decision, the offensive staff's decision. Whatever decision they make is fine by me. I just go out and play every day."

Based on his scrimmage work this August, that approach seems to be working quite well.

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