Produce now ... or else

Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer's dilemma can be summed up in six words: Too many players, too little time.

With the season opener at California just 19 days away, Fulmer and his staff are trying to figure out which of the 85 scholarship players will be among the 44 first- and second-teamers when the Vols make their 2007 debut Sept. 1 at Berkeley. In other words, the coaches need to start giving roughly 50 percent of the players approximately 90 percent of the practice repetitions.

The coaches also need to determine which plays to focus on and which plays to discard for the moment. Each year the staff basically puts in the whole offense in early August, then weeds out the plays that don't fit the team's strengths.

"We'll have to narrow what we're doing because we've been inserting an awful lot," Fulmer said. "We always put the whole before the parts, then we go back and eliminate and try to fit our personnel."

"We've got to do two things: We've got to narrow what we're doing on both sides and we've got to narrow who we are doing it with. We can't possibly work as many people as we're working."

After reviewing films of Saturday's full-scale scrimmage, the coaches have identified some players they do not think will be contributing in Game 1. Those players will get very few meaningful reps in practice this week.

The coaches will eliminate more players following scrimmage No. 2 this Saturday. Basically, one bad scrimmage can doom a borderline player to the scout squad or even a redshirt season. That may not seem fair but, with nationally ranked Cal, preseason Conference USA favorite Southern Miss and defending national champ Florida to face in Games 1, 2 and 3, the coaching staff has to identify the first- and second-teamers immediately.

"The players understood that coming in," Fulmer said. "With our schedule being front end-loaded, now's the time we've got to cut back in what we're doing as far as plays and we've got to cut back who we're working with."

Two freshmen who clearly survived the first cut are tailbacks Lennon Creer and Daryl Vereen. Creer rushed 11 times for 84 yards in Saturday's scrimmage, while Vereen chipped in 13 carries for 41 yards. Both are bidding for spots in the tailback rotation behind junior starter Arian Foster.

Fulmer, who is not inclined to hype his freshmen, noted simply that: "I was pleased with Creer and pleased with Vereen."

The coach offered a mixed review of junior college transfer Kenny O'Neal, who is contending for a first-team job at wide receiver. O'Neal caught a 60-yard touchdown pass in the scrimmage but dropped a potential TD pass and was involved in a fight.

"He made a play and didn't make a play," Fulmer said. "He's got to be more consistent."

That sentence applies to the offense as a group, of course. The first-team attack unit marched 68 yards in 15 plays on its first possession Saturday, producing a touchdown and bringing a smile to the head man's face.

"That was good to see offensively," Fulmer said. "I've been out here when the offense didn't make a first down."


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