After watching his three scholarship QBs combine for four interceptions in Scrimmage No. 2 on April 5, Clawson was somewhat relieved – but still not satisfied – when they cut that total in half last Saturday in Scrimmage No. 3.
"It wasn't the pick-fest that a week ago was," Clawson noted, "but it's not good when you throw picks at all."
Junior Jonathan Crompton, the odds-on favorite to be Tennessee's No. 1 quarterback this fall, bounced back from a three-interception performance in Scrimmage 2 to throw just one in Scrimmage 3. Sophomore Nick Stephens threw zero interceptions last Saturday and redshirt freshman B. J. Coleman threw one.
"I thought we forced the ball less than we did a week ago," Clawson mused, "but we still turned it over. If you turn it over once, that's still too many times."
Because they were standout players at the high school level, Crompton, Stephens and Coleman routinely made high-risk throws ... usually completing them. At the college level, however, high-risk throws often as not are caught by defensive backs. That's why Clawson is teaching his passers that decision-making is just as important as play-making.
"We still have to do a better job of taking care of the football," the Vol aide said. "I thought there were more good decisions (in the most recent scrimmage). Some of the good decisions are just throwing it away.
"Sometimes you call something, the defense does a heck of a job covering you and you need to just cut your losses, survive the down and play the next play."
Last Saturday's scrimmage was Tennessee's first of the Clawson Era without green (no-contact) jerseys for the quarterbacks. As a result the new coordinator learned a lot about his troops.
"I did," he said. "I think Jonathan's a good athlete. B.J. and Nick are guys that can make plays with their feet. You want to protect them because there are so many times that the quarterback is not in position to protect himself. But at times I think it (green jersey) puts them at a heck of a disadvantage because they're a little bit of sitting ducks there and you don't move the pocket as much."
Crompton, Stephens and Coleman are considerably more mobile than predecessor Erik Ainge, Tennessee's No. 1 quarterback the past four seasons, and they showed it last Saturday. Crompton scored on two sneaks and scrambled for gains of 4 and 8 yards. Stephens and Coleman showed the ability to move around in the pocket to escape the pass rush.
"They created some plays with their feet," Clawson said of the three quarterbacks, "and I think there were plays that maybe a week ago would've been sacks."
Although Crompton clearly has the lead, the QB competition is not over. Stephens and Coleman have enough talent and determination to keep things interesting for a while. When a TV reporter asked about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the three quarterbacks, however, Vol wide receiver Gerald Jones wisely ducked the question.
"No matter who's in the game I'm confident in all of them," he hedged. "All of them are great quarterbacks, smart people, good people who are dedicated to the game.
"I have trust in every one."
Especially now that the pick-fest days are over.