Vol offensive tackle Will Ofenheusle joked that Clausen will play Saturday ''if we have to roll him onto the field in a wheelchair.'' Likewise, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders quipped that ''I think it would take somebody stealing his helmet and not letting him dress for him NOT to play.''
Still, the concern on the face of head coach Phillip Fulmer suggests that Clausen's status is no joking matter. In fact, his comments sound downright ominous.
''We are working ALL of the quarterbacks in preparation for the 'What if?' '' Fulmer said. ''I do expect that Casey will be ready to go, and we'll have him prepared. But we'll also have C.J. Leak prepared, James Banks and Kelley Washington.
''The upside of that is, if Casey is not able to go, they give us a different dimension with mobility, speed and quickness that can put pressure on a defensive football team. We have a couple of nice packages we will prepare along the way. If Casey's not able to go, we'll be able to use those if we need to.''
Fulmer went on to note that certain questions come into play as the Vols decide whether or not to use a banged-up Clausen this weekend ... ''How effective can he be? Do you risk further injury?''
Clausen injured his shoulder midway through the fourth quarter last Saturday night but hid the injury from his coaches.
''I knew something was bothering him and the trainers knew,'' Sanders said. ''But he wouldn't tell us because I think he knew we might not put him back out there. Looking back at the tape, it was obvious he was hurting.''
If Clausen does play Saturday, Sanders said, ''We can't get him hit near as much as we did last week.... We called one quarterback sneak and one quarterback draw, so it's not like we were trying to run him and give him opportunities (to get hurt). We're trying to do everything we can to protect him but we've got to do a lot better job in pass protection.''
Fans looking for a silver lining can cling to the fact that the injury is to Clausen's non-throwing shoulder. So, if he's healthy enough to play, his passing shouldn't be affected significantly.
''He doesn't throw left-handed, so we're all right,'' Sanders deadpanned. ''I don't think it will affect him. If he gets out there and starts playing -- the juices get flowing -- he won't even know his shoulder's hurting.''
Clausen is the latest Vol to fall victim to injury. Already lost for the season are defensive end Constantin Ritzmann (torn ACL), linebacker Kevin Burnett (torn ACL) and linebacker Kevin Simon (fractured ankle). Nagging injuries also have hampered wideout Kelley Washington, defensive ends Karlton Neal and Mondre Dickerson, tailback Cedric Houston, and guards Jason Respert, Chavis Smith and Anthony Herrera.
''Obviously, it's been a real unusual year with injuries to some key people,'' Fulmer said. ''But each time we've had those, we've had somebody step up and help us get a win. I expect, if Casey's not able to go, we will have somebody step up and help us at that position, as well.''
That ''somebody'' could be Washington. He came to UT as a quarterback two years ago and showed excellent potential, including a bazooka arm. Because he was too talented to ride the bench as Clausen's backup, he moved to receiver and promptly led the 2001 Vols in receptions (64) and receiving yards (1,010). He hasn't worked at QB since the spring of 2001 but that's about to change.
When asked if Washington is a viable option at quarterback, Sanders replied: ''We'll find out a little bit today (Tuesday) and tomorrow in practice. When he played quarterback two springs ago, he was pretty dynamic, doing some of the things he knew how to do. But that was two springs ago. How much he has retained and how much carryover we still have, we'll find out when we get out there.''
If Clausen can't play the entire game Saturday, the safest option would be to replace him with Leak, who has a full year in the UT system and, unlike Washington and Banks, has worked exclusively at quarterback. Lacking Clausen's experience, however, Leak will not be asked to do some of the things Clausen does.
''We'll scale back quite a bit in some areas (if Leak has to play),'' Sanders said. ''We probably won't be asking the quarterback to do as much at the line of scrimmage (audibles, etc.). We'll put more pressure on other people ... kind of just let the quarterback play.''
In a related note, Sanders said Washington is ''healthier than he has been. He still isn't quite 100 percent but he's getting much closer.''