Asked for a grade, Cutcliffe had this to say: ``The practice plan we put together, what we did over and over and over, pounding it and getting with it was an A. It really was. But if I had to grade where we were, we'd be fortunate to have a B.''
That's because the Vols have a long way to go to be an effective offensive team this fall. Receivers must emerge and the offensive line must show dramatic improvement over last season.
Cutcliffe said Tennessee will be a more physical team and improve on its running game. He also thinks the no-huddle can provide advantages in matchups against defenses, especially with a veteran quarterback like Erik Ainge at the controls.
Cutcliffe said UT did more one-on-one blocking and inside drills in an effort to become more physical. And he said concerns that the Vols might become more of a finesse team are unfounded.
``Everybody worries about that,'' Cutcliffe said. ``Just because you're no-huddle doesn't mean you don't have to be physical and aggressive. My intention is to be more aggressive.''
Maybe so, but does he think the Vols will be able to convert short-yardage situations – a problem area for the past few years?
``Yes, I do,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I have a strong opinion about short yardage. You get to running too much on third-and-one and one-and-a-half, you're going to get stopped a bunch. Just look at the percentages across the board.
``The best place to study trends is the NFL because most of those teams are equal. It's like us playing SEC games.''
Tennessee managed to convert 48 percent of its third down attempts last year, which ranked second in the SEC to LSU. Cutcliffe said the reason for the high rate was the fact UT threw so often on third down, keeping defenses off balance.
``I wasn't as worried about our short-yardage running as I was our lost yards on first and second down, creating some longer down-and-distances than I like,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I think we eliminated a lot of that with our no-huddle. I think we had less negative yard plays this spring than we've been having.''
Some of that is the line getting more accustomed to the zone-blocking scheme.
One thing is for sure – if Tennessee's line doesn't show considerable improvement over the past few years, the offense is in trouble, no-huddle or not.
``I think we're closer,'' Cutcliffe said of the line playing to the level necessary. ``I don't think we're there. You saw people getting better and we blocked people at the point of attack pretty well.
``Going back and studying a year ago, we really did some nice things. When we had looks right and got to the right plays, we were pretty successful. We did that more often this spring.''
Cutcliffe felt Ainge was having a terrific spring before his knee injury.
``I think the light came on for him back in January during meetings,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I think he really started having a great understanding of what we were doing. His progress was exceptional and he was throwing the ball with accuracy and was just in charge and doing a great job with the no-huddle stuff.''
Ainge's injury allowed backup Jonathan Crompton to get more snaps with the first team.
``Crompton's a ton better than he was at this time a year ago,'' Cutcliffe said. ``His decision making is better. He's getting the ball out quick. His understanding of what we need done is better. He just has to be more consistent and not try to force some things to happen.
``He could make plays in high school as well as anybody you'd ever want to see. He will be able to do that in college, but it's kind of like the gambler – you've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. He's just got to figure that out, and the more he plays the better he'll get at that.''
Maybe the same can be said for the receivers. That is an area of great concern for Cutcliffe.
Last season, the Vols had 68 plays of at least 16 yards in the passing game. That more than doubled the number from the 2005 season.
``All you have to do is look at the cutups of plays we made, and so many of them occurred at wide receiver,'' Cutcliffe said of the 2006 season. ``The big third downs, the big plays in games, the five-minute span in the opening game when our receivers made three huge plays. We'll miss those guys.
``But I'll tell you this: our receiving corps did some really good things this spring and they need to continue along that path. Those guys aren't going to lay down for anybody. They're going to compete and I like they way they competed in the spring.''