Vols cope with Kelley's absence

If head coach Phillip Fulmer and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders are worried that Tennessee's passing game will grind to a halt now that Kelley Washington has been ruled out of Saturday's opener against Wyoming they're certainly masking it well.

Contrary to popular opinion, Fulmer said the Vols won't switch to a ground-hugging offense just because their premier pass-catcher is sidelined.


''I'm hoping we can be ourselves and be multiple -- spread it out when we want to and pack it in if we want to,'' he said. ''We have the ability to pack it in there pretty good and run the ball most of the time if we have to. But that's certainly not what we're planning to do; nor is that what we want to do down the road. I don't think one player is going to make that much difference in how we approach this particular ballgame.''


Fulmer also expressed confidence in the ability of UT's other receivers to pick up the slack.


''I've been real pleased with Montrell (Jones) and I've been real pleased Tony Brown,'' Fulmer said. ''Leonard (Scott) has been working real hard to be in that mix.''


Converted quarterback C.J. Fayton is as talented as any of Tennessee's wideouts but he has run hot and cold in practice. If he develops consistency, he could be a major contributor.


''I want to see C.J. Fayton take that next step,'' Fulmer said. ''He's been limited some by a (pulled) groin and (the fact) it's a new position for him. I'm anxious to see what he does.''


The head man also is eager to get a look at freshmen Jonathan Wade and Chris Hannon. Wade is a 5-9 darter with world-class speed. Hannon is a rangy 6-4 guy with excellent speed in his own right.


''I'm excited about those two freshmen,'' Fulmer said. ''They're unusually mature kids. They don't have the whole system down yet, but they don't have to. We can pick and choose what we need to do.''


Another entrant in the wideout derby is redshirt freshman Jomo Fagan. Fulmer noted that he ''has made some plays for us. He just needs to be more consistent.''


In his search for more big plays from the receiving corps, Fulmer probably will give double duty to Rashad Baker and Mark Jones, two safeties who were ballyhooed pass-catchers in high school. One thing's for certain: If they line up at receiver, they won't be there as decoys.


''If they're over there,'' Fulmer said, ''they're going to get the ball.''


Like Fulmer, Sanders says Washington's absence won't have much effect on his approach to this game.


''Not really,'' the coordinator said. ''It may change the quarterback's thought process a little bit because we've had the progression the last year or so that if you get one-on-one coverage on Kelley or Donte' (Stallworth) you threw it to 'em, no matter what else was happening. Now we don't have a guy where we say, 'If it's one-on-one, we're going to win that battle. Throw it to him.' We may have to stick with the progression a little more.''


Although losing a star player can leave a team shell-shocked, Sanders has seen no evidence of that in this case.


''I think everybody's fired up and ready to play,'' he said. ''We're going to miss Kelley, obviously, but we've had a lot of things like this in the past -- whether it was Jamal Lewis with his knee (Game 4 at Auburn in 1998) or Fred Weary when he got hurt against Florida (Game 2 of 2000).


''You just rally the troops and keep on going. Somebody just steps up and makes plays.''


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