Clawson sees progress

In the fall a football team's offense is judged by one measuring stick – points. In the spring, however, a more important measuring stick is progress.

That's why Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson was encouraged by Saturday's full-scale scrimmage, the Vols' third of the spring.

"We got better," he said moments after the 2½ -hour workout at wind-swept Neyland Stadium concluded. "I thought our offense played a little faster. It looked like guys knew what they were doing. This is obviously still a work in progress and we're obviously not where we need to be, but I think at least we took a step forward this week."

That step didn't produce a significant increase in points, however. Jonathan Crompton scored on a pair of quarterback sneaks to cap scoring drives of 60 and 66 yards. The other three offensive touchdowns came on drives of 25 yards or less. Nick Stephens hit Gerald Jones with a 19-yard laser beam for and found Quintin Hancock with a 6-yard slant for another. Lennon Creer got the last TD on a four-yard run that capped a 25-yard drive.

From the stands, Tennessee's offense doesn't look a whole lot different under Clawson then it did under predecessor David Cutcliffe. The Vols still try to run to set up play-action passes. They still rely heavily on the short passing game. They still try to maintain a run/pass balance.

Regardless, Clawson says Tennessee's offensive players are having to learn and process an awful lot of new information this spring. The mental workload, he believes, has affected physical performance.

"As much as we're running similar plays and as much as we're running similar concepts, because we're calling it different stuff, there's a little bit of a (learning) process that isn't letting the guys play full speed," he said. "Again, we're not where we need to be but I thought we played faster. Hopefully, that's a process where we'll continue to get better and better."

Statistically, Scrimmage No. 3 featured some bright spots for the offense. Crompton (17 of 22, 146 yards) and Stephens (10 of 15, 69 yards, 2 TDs) combined to complete 27 of 37 passes for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Redshirt freshman B. J. Coleman (7 of 19, 41 yards) was the only scholarship QB who struggled.

Interestingly enough, the top four pass catchers included two wideouts – (Gerald Jones, 7 for 55 and Quintin Hancock, 7 for 41), a tight end (Luke Stocker, 4 for 29) and a fullback (Kevin Cooper, 3 for 32).

Meanwhile, the ground game sprang to life. Arian Foster (7 for 38), Lennon Creer (10 for 47) and Tauren Poole (17 for 45) combined for 130 rushing yards. The same trio combined for just 69 yards a week earlier in Scrimmage No. 2.

Though pleased by the improvement, Clawson remains far from satisfied.

"It's never what you hope," he said. "You come out here and want it to be perfect but that's not realistic. Next year and the year after that – if we're doing this offense still and still running things this way – I'm sure it won't be perfect then, either."

Although the Vols still have a long way to go offensively before they're ready to open the 2008 season Sept. 1 at UCLA, they clearly have come many miles since spring practice began.

"I think the most important thing is that we've seen players progress," Clawson said. "There's a number of guys that are a lot better players at Practice 12 than they were at Practice 1.

"When it's all said and done, it's about players and not plays. If we get the right guys in the right spots and find ways to get them the football, that's how we need to win football games."

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