Cut promises 'clean slate'

When Trooper Taylor was hired as Tennessee's running backs coach two years ago, he announced that all of his troops had a "clean slate" and would be starting from scratch. Thus motivated, tailbacks Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs rushed for 1,000 yards each the following fall.

David Cutcliffe must be hoping history will repeat. Shortly after being named UT's offensive coordinator, he virtually echoed Taylor's comments from two years earlier.

"I've already met with the offensive team and set down a simple message: The slate's basically clean for them," he said. "I want to be involved with them, see as many of them as I can between recruiting trips. And I want them to understand what our mission statement is going to be. Then I'll be recruiting and redeveloping relationships with the staff."

The clean slate means a fresh start for many inexperienced and unsung players. Thus, there's a great opportunity for linemen Eric Young, Steven Jones, Chris Scott and Josh McNeil, backs David Yancey and Ja'Kouri Williams, receivers Bill Grimes, Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers, Slick Shelley and Casey Woods, quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton, Bo Hardegree and Jim Bob Cooter, plus tight end Jeff Cottam.

Whereas the unproven players will be motivated by the prospect of winning jobs, the veteran players will be motivated by the threat of losing jobs.

"Sure," Cutcliffe said. "When the slate's clean, it means you're starting at ground zero. It's up to them to do with that opportunity whatever they want to do with it. I think they understand they all have to prove themselves."

Some of Tennessee's 2005 starters may be dismayed to learn they must prove themselves all over again. Cutcliffe figures they'll get over it.

"With where we are," he said, "I wouldn't think anybody would think that's unusual … not with the way the season went."

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