Direct approach

Once the quarterback hands off the football on a running play, his primary function is to get out of harm's way. That leaves the ball-carrier running behind nine guys who are trying to block 11 guys.

Arkansas figured out a way to even the odds a bit last season. The Razorbacks' so-called "Wildcat package" featured a direct snap to star tailback Darren McFadden. With no quarterback on the field, McFadden had 10 guys blocking 11, instead of nine blocking 11.

The Wildcat package was so successful that McFadden led the Southeastern Conference in rushing and Arkansas won the SEC West championship. Several teams took notice, including Tennessee. The Vols put together a package late last fall that involved snapping the ball directly to receiver Lucas Taylor, a former option quarterback who once ran for a mind-boggling 539 yards in a 2004 high school game.

As fate would have it, though, the Big Orange never got to utilize its version of the Wildcat package.

"We had a little package for Lucas," head coach Phillip Fulmer admits, "but the week we put it in he ended up getting hurt."

In addition to Taylor, Fulmer believes incoming freshmen Eric Berry and Gerald Jones would be adept at running a direct-snap attack. The problem, as the head man notes, is that "those guys aren't here this spring"(to work on it).

As a former offensive lineman, Tennessee's head man views the direct snap as a boost to the ground game since "you end up with an extra blocker (since) the quarterback's not handing it off. He's the ball-carrier, so you can end up with the numbers in your favor."

Another advantage of the direct-snap attack is that eliminating the need for a hand-off allows the ball-carrier to get to the outside quicker.

"It's the whole perimeter game, getting good players in space," Fulmer says. "The perimeter game in this day and age is really important. Otherwise, defenses really gang up on you."

Vol offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe is intrigued by the direct-snap package, as well. He fancies the idea of having an extra blocker on running plays.

"It's just a matter of numbers," he notes. "Any time your quarterback is a runner, you can get your numbers right. It certainly helped Arkansas's team once they made a commitment to that."

Still, Cutcliffe isn't planning to spend a lot of time this spring working on a direct-snap offense. He figures the Vols have plenty of fundamental work to complete before they're ready to try anything fancy.

"We've got some potential for that," he says, "but that's not going to be the early focus of spring."

There's an excellent chance Tennessee will implement a direct-snap package when preseason drills begin in August, however. As Cutcliffe notes: "We've got some athletes we think can do that, so I think that's got to be a part of it."

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