Mobility's a must

After leading Tennessee to the 1998 national title, quarterback Tee Martin was honored with a statue in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.

His successors didn't warrant statues; they WERE statues. Casey Clausen (2000-2003) ran like a pregnant ostrich. Erik Ainge (2004-2007), in spite of a basketball background, was more likely to pick up an injury than a first down on those rare occasions when he tried to move around.

After eight years of sitting-duck immobility at quarterback, Vol fans seem ready for a change. If new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dave Clawson has his way, they'll get it. He isn't promising a Vince Young or a Tim Tebow but he's determined that Tennessee's 2008 QB won't be a statue, either.

"Today a quarterback has to have the ability to protect himself. Athleticism is important," Clawson said recently. "I don't mean the ability to take off and run for 50 yards, but there's got to be enough athleticism to make a guy miss in the pocket and buy time for yourself to get the ball down the field.

"We can't have statues back there. We've got to have guys that can move their feet and create some space for themselves."

Guys like Jonathan Crompton, for instance. After three years spent watching Ainge run the offense, Crompton is the heir-apparent for 2008. The 6-4, 230-pound rising junior is no speed merchant but he has the power and toughness to run over people – a knack he displayed in impressive fashion while flattening an LSU defensive back in 2006.

Rising sophomore Nick Stephens, a 6-4, 215-pounder, and redshirt freshman B. J. Coleman, a 6-4, 205-pounder, also exhibit adequate mobility.

In addition to decent feet, Clawson likes for his quarterback to have a live arm.

"The big thing I love to look at is the wrist – the ability to snap off throws – and accuracy," Clawson said.

Crompton, Stephens and Coleman meet this criteria, as well. Based on preseason scrimmages last August, all three appear to throw the ball with plenty of zip and plenty of accuracy.

Since the three scholarship quarterbacks have decent feet and superior arms, the key to winning the first-team job likely will be more mental than physical.

"I expect the quarterback to be an extension of the coach on the field," Clawson said. "They need to know the offense inside-out. They need to know the run game. They need to know the protections. It takes a big commitment and a lot of film work but if they put the time in it slows the game down for them."

Clawson is eager for spring practice to arrive, so he can begin fine-tuning Crompton, Stephens and Coleman. He says his approach to preparing a quarterback is pretty simple.

"I think you have to make practice more difficult than the game's going to be," he said. "I want the game to be easy, where things have slowed down. We want to coach these guys at a break-neck pace."


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