Passing grade for passing game?

One of Tennessee's big questions coming out of Saturday's first full-scale scrimmage of the preseason was this: Did the passing game warrant a passing grade?

Maybe. As expected, the quarterbacks performed well. As expected, the wide receivers performed erratically. The big surprise was the tight ends, who did not make the impact that was expected of them.

First-team QB Erik Ainge completed a pedestrian 9 of 17 passes for 70 yards with two interceptions. One of the interceptions was tipped. The other was thrown up for grabs on orders from head coach Phillip Fulmer and David Cutcliffe to see if Ainge's receiver could make a play.

Jonathan Crompton completed 11 of 16 for 93 yards with one interception. It bounced off the hands of No. 3 tight end Jeff Cottam. Crompton also had two passes dropped by tight ends.

No. 3 quarterback Nick Stephens looked very good against third-team defenders. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions. One of his incompletions was a potential 38-yard TD pass that was dropped by wideout Kenny O'Neal. The other two incompletions were batted down at the line of scrimmage by freshman defensive end Ben Martin.

Collectively, the three QBs combined to complete 24 of 40 passes for 257 yards and one TD with three interceptions. Those are good numbers but they undoubtedly would've been better if the Vols' youthful wideouts were more disciplined in their route-running and more predictable in their decision-making.

Ainge says that's all part of the learning curve.

"We're still finding out who does what best," he said. "Some guys can do everything. Some guys can do certain things. Finding out who does what to the best of their ability is kind of what we're out here doing.

"Who can run a go route? Who can make guys miss? We're trying to figure those things out. Mistakes are going to happen in that process."

The senior QB noted that there were "a lot of mistakes" on Saturday, adding: "We had too many penalties before or after the play – false starts, alignment issues. And we had a guy (O'Neal) that would've gotten kicked out of the game (for fighting). Those are the kind of things you want to avoid all the time, and we didn't do a great job of that."

The upside is, the Vols get a chance to correct their mistakes in practice this week, then put their wares on display again in scrimmage No. 2 this Saturday. Ainge believes the next showing will be far better than the first.

"First scrimmages are always rough on both sides," he said. "The offense makes mistakes, the defense makes mistakes. It's what you do when you watch the film, go out to practice Monday through Friday, then how you come out here in the second scrimmage tells you where you're at."


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