Vols point to Kelley's return

Tennessee's players and coaches believe there's nothing wrong with the Vol offense that the return of star receiver <a target='_new' href='http://scout.theinsiders.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=316403&yr=2002'>Kelley Washington</a> can't fix.

In the wake of Saturday night's listless 26-3 defeat of Middle Tennessee State, the hot topic in the UT locker room was the eagerly anticipated return of Washington, who missed the first two games with a sprained knee. In fact, quarterback Casey Clausen could talk of little else.


''Offensively, the first two games we did OK,'' he said. ''Things will change when Kelley gets back. Our offense will be more dynamic. He brings big plays. When teams want to tighten the box and play him one-on-one outside, we'll turn to him every single time. The enthusiasm and big-play ability he brings is the biggest thing.''


Asked to pinpoint the biggest drawback on offense so far, Clausen replied: ''The biggest thing is that we need to play up to our offensive capabilities. With Kelley coming back I think we're ready to go.''


Questioned about Tennessee's inability to exploit its opportunities in the so-called ''Orange Area'' vs. MTSU, Clausen again spoke of his injured teammate.


''Guys have to make plays,'' he said. ''With Kelley out, Jason (Witten) is getting double-teamed quite a bit. When Kelley gets back, that'll open up our offense even more.''


Yet, when asked to identify the biggest plus on offense thus far, Clausen quickly pointed to Washington's injury.


''The biggest plus is playing without Kelley,'' he said. ''Everybody knew coming in that we wanted to find a No. 2 and No. 3 guy at receiver. I think we've found one -- maybe two guys -- who are a complement to what he's going to bring. Obviously, when he's out there, teams will try to overload to his side. If they do that, we'll be able to go opposite of him.''


Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders conceded that Washington's absence has accelerated the growth of UT's other wideouts.


''There's no doubt,'' he said. ''Those guys have been thrown into the fire and they've had to get it done. I think for the most part they've responded pretty well. There's still a lot of improvement we can make at receiver but we haven't had dropped balls, fumbles or balls tipped up off their hands and intercepted.''


Like the players, Sanders believes the availability of Washington will cure just about all of Tennessee's offensive ailments.


''We're not a great offensive football team right now -- we're missing a weapon -- but we mainly need to eliminate the mistakes and quit stopping ourselves,'' Sanders said. ''We haven't been stopped much this year.''


Head coach Phillip Fulmer also speaks hopefully of Washington's impending return, noting that the other wideouts showed some growing pains vs. MTSU.


''We obviously missed a playmaker of big-time proportion out there,'' he said. ''We had a couple of times when receivers caught the ball, then stood there dancing around. That's not what we coach at all. But they're young and growing. They'll get better.''


Inside Tennessee Top Stories