West Coast wonders

On the third play of Saturday's intra-squad scrimmage, tailback Arian Foster caught a short pass over the middle, sidestepped a linebacker with a nifty move and rambled for a 15-yard gain.

Welcome to the West Coast Offense.

Relying heavily on the short and intermediate passing game, the WCO works best when a team has running backs capable of (A) catching the football and (B) making plays after the catch.

"It's very important," said first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, who is installing his version of the attack this spring. "With what we do in the passing game, the running backs are very involved. At times they're primary (receivers) and at times they're the check-down guys."

The Vols appear blessed with an ideal assortment of running backs for a West Coast Offense, led by the sure-handed Foster. The 6-1, 225-pound senior ranked fifth among Vols in receptions last fall with 39. He averaged 8.7 yards per catch and scored two receiving touchdowns.

Foster's 15-yard gainer on the third play of Saturday's scrimmage was a harbinger of things to come. Minutes later fullback Kevin Cooper turned a short pass into a 12-yard gain. Four plays later, reserve tailback Lennon Creer parlayed a reception into a 13-yard gain. Freshman tailback Tauren Poole eventually joined the fun, picking up five yards on a screen pass and later turning a flat pass into a nine-yard gain. Foster came back with an eight-yard reception. Cooper caught a short toss for a gain of three and later turned a safety-valve pass into a 17-yard gain shortly before the scrimmage ended.

Cooper, who has surprisingly good hands for a 6-0, 240-pound bruiser, finished with 32 yards on three receptions. Foster added 23 yards on two grabs. Poole chipped in 14 yards on two catches and Creer 13 yards on one grab. All told, Vol backs combined to catch eight passes for 82 yards. Clawson was understandably pleased.

"I thought overall today we did a better job of taking the check-down guys," the coordinator said. "We didn't force the ball deep as much (as in the previous scrimmage), and that was encouraging."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer was not at all surprised by Foster's quality work in the passing game. He knows the San Diego product is one of the SEC's finest receivers out of the backfield, noting that "Arian is obviously a weapon in a lot of ways."

Fulmer was also pleased with Creer, Poole and Cooper.

"I thought we had a good day at running back," the Vol head man said, adding that "It was good to see Lennon make a couple of plays for us – getting the ball down the field and taking care of the ball."

Clawson echoed that sentiment, noting that "I thought Lennon Creer had a couple of good runs that he made people miss."

Only three of Tennessee's 15 spring workouts remain – practices Tuesday and Thursday, followed by the Orange & White Game this Saturday at 2:30. As of last weekend, though, Clawson still hadn't put in the entire offensive package.

"We've probably got about 85 to 90 percent in of what we could call," he said. "We didn't call all of that stuff today. We really tried to pare it down and let them play fast. Hopefully, that showed."

It did. The scrimmage also showed that Tennessee's running backs are going to fit very, very well into a West Coast scheme.


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