Clarett shines; why can't Riggs?

Ohio State's ballyhooed freshman tailback, Maurice Clarett, is the No. 5 rusher in Div. 1 football. Tennessee's ballyhooed freshman tailback, <a target='_new' href='http://scout.theinsiders.com/a.z?s=7&p=8&c=1&nid=313836&yr=2002'>Gerald Riggs, Jr.</a>, is the No. 7 rusher in the Vol camp. <p>

Clarett has carried the ball 84 times this fall; Riggs has carried five
times. Clarett has gained 575 yards; Riggs 10. Clarett has scored 10
touchdowns; Riggs zero.

Here's an even more telling stat: Clarett averages more yards per carry
(6.8) than Riggs averages PER GAME (3.3).

Both were ranked among the top tailback prospects in America last winter, so
how is it that Clarett is riding high while Riggs is riding the bench?

Vol coaches say Riggs needs work on his pass-protection skills. That may be,
but it's a safe bet that Clarett isn't the world's most accomplished blocker
at this stage, yet look at the impact he's having for the Buckeyes.

It would be easy for Riggs to question Tennessee's coaches. It would be easy
for him to complain that he isn't getting a fair opportunity to display his
skills. It would be easy for him to second-guess his decision to sign with
the Vols. But, to his credit, he is content to bide his time and bite his
tongue.

When asked if Clarett's success makes it tougher to be patient, Riggs shook
his head.

''No,'' he said. ''Maurice is in a different situation than me. There were
(veteran) guys in front of him but they probably weren't as good as him.
He's a great back and he's one of those guys that came to the collegiate
level ready to play.

''He came into a better situation, as far as getting early playing time. I'm
in a situation where we've got a lot of great athletes at my position, and
it's a matter of biding your time and waiting for your chance.''

Asked how he deals with the transition from elite high school back to unused
college back, Riggs replied: ''I knew what I was coming into. Cedric
(Houston), Jabari (Davis), Derrick (Tinsley) and Keldrick (Williams) were
all elite backs in high school. You've just got to wait your turn. Sooner or
later, you'll get your chance. When you get your chance, make the best of
it. That's my mindset right now.''

Asked how he feels about the pass-protection issue, Riggs replied: ''I feel
I'm making good progress. I feel like I'm doing a lot better. I feel like if
I was put in the game I could get the job done. But it's up to them
(coaches). They have to have confidence in me that I'm going to get the job
done. They can't just go on what I say.''

When a reporter asked if pass protection has become a priority for him,
Riggs grinned.

''Or course, it's a priority,'' he said. ''If you don't have pass
protection, everybody around you is going to get killed.''

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said there is ''an awful lot'' for any
freshman to learn about Tennessee's pass protection schemes. Riggs shrugged
when told of the comment.

''It's a lot but it's not as much as people make it seem,'' he said. ''You
have to be able to think quickly. You can't hesitate. That's the big thing
-- hesitating ... not being sure where I'm supposed to go. I can tell you
what I have to do, but when you're on the field it's a different story
because things are moving so fast and teams are moving around a lot. You can
be a little hesitant if you don't have that experience and, right now, I
don't have that experience. That's probably the biggest thing right now
that's keeping me out.''

With Houston recovering from thumb surgery that will cause him to miss
Saturday's game with Arkansas, Sanders quipped that Riggs ''has one less
body in front of him.'' That could mean Riggs will get a few carries this
week.

''I've always approached every week of practice hard, trying to get better
and giving 100 percent effort,'' he said. ''This week, knowing that I'll
probably get to play a little bit, will just make me work a little harder.''

Given Clarett's ability to thrive at a school where quality tailbacks were
lacking, Riggs was asked if he ever second-guesses his decision to sign with
the tailback-rich Vols.

''Nah,'' he said. ''Maurice went into a little better situation, as far as
early playing time, and it worked out better for him in the short term. In
the long term, it will work out for me, too, so I'm just waiting my
chance.''


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