Keep it simple

They say there's more than one way to skin a cat, and I believe that. Former Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has his way of installing an offense and successor Dave Clawson has his way.

For what it's worth, I like Clawson's way a lot better.

Clawson is "skinning the cat" very slowly this spring ... adding a bit here and a bit there. As of last Saturday he estimated that only about 40 percent of the offensive package was in place. By this Saturday he expects the total to be about 60 percent. Clawson is on record saying he may have only 75 percent of the total package installed by the Orange & White Game.

That would be a problem if the Vols' season opener was scheduled May 1. It isn't, though. It's Sept. 1, and I'm pretty sure Clawson can find the time to put in that other 25 percent during the next four months.

Cutcliffe's philosophy is the polar opposite of Clawson's. "Coach Cut" insisted on throwing the entire package at the Vols the first week of practice, then weeding out the things they struggled to (A) learn or (B) execute. Obviously, there was some method to his madness. After averaging just 18.6 points per game in 2005, the year prior to Cutcliffe's arrival, Tennessee averaged 27.8 in 2006 and 32.5 in 2007 under his guidance.

The numbers speak for themselves. The man obviously knows what he's doing.

My main problem with Cutcliffe was his inability to get talented young players on the field quickly. Freshmen make immediate impact at Florida. They make immediate impact at Georgia, too. But not at Tennessee ... not on offense, anyway.

Consider: Freshmen Eric Berry and Brent Vinson started a combined 24 games on defense last fall. Conversely, the last two Vol freshmen who started on offense under Cutcliffe were Jamal Lewis (1997) and Peyton Manning (1994). Both went on to become top-five NFL Draft picks, yet even they played sparingly the first month of their college careers.

Why? My theory is that throwing the entire playbook at a freshman – even one as brilliant as Manning – causes a system overload. Most rookies would feel overwhelmed by the glut of information, then frustrated by their inability to process it. Ultimately, their confidence and performance would suffer.

How many times in recent years have you heard Tennessee's players and coaches say after a big win: "We simplified things, and it really helped."

Clawson's approach is to start simple, then add to the package over time. I think this is a great idea. I think this will keep Tennessee's freshmen from feeling overwhelmed. I think this will keep them from losing confidence. I think this will keep them in contention for first- and second-team jobs.

Critics will say Clawson has elected to "dummy down" the offense. I disagree. I think his approach makes perfect sense. You teach a kid to walk before you ask him to run.

I believe this approach will help Tennessee's most talented freshmen get on the field quicker. Some of those freshmen could come in handy when the time comes to actually skin a Cat ... or a Gator ... or a Bulldog ... or a Gamecock ... or a Tiger.

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