'Up for grabs'

New offensive coordinator Dave Clawson knows this much about Tennessee's first snap of the 2008 football opener against UCLA: It will feature a quarterback and five linemen.

Everything else, he says, is "up for grabs."

Whereas some coaches try to fit their personnel to a system, Clawson is determined to mold a system around the personnel. That's why, with just one workout and one scrimmage left in spring practice, he still has no idea how the Vols will line up for the first play of the first game.

That's got to be frustrating for UCLA's defensive coaches. How can they know what Tennessee's offense is going to do when even the Vols' coordinator doesn't know what Tennessee's offense is going to do?

Clawson isn't being coy. Six weeks of spring practice simply hasn't convinced him who the Vols' 11 best offensive players are. And, until he knows who the 11 best are, he won't know how to best utilize their talents. Thus, UCLA's coaches – along with Tennessee's fans – could be guessing right up to the opening snap on Sept. 1.

The subject arose earlier today during the annual coordinators news conference, when Clawson was asked about the importance of the fullback in his scheme.

"We can play with one; we can play without one," the coordinator replied. "To me, you need to line up with a quarterback and five offensive linemen. The other five are up for grabs."

For most of the past 40 years Tennessee's offense featured two wide receivers, a tight end, a tailback and a fullback (or H-back). The alignment for the 2008 opener against UCLA could be virtually identical … or it could be totally different.

"I think it's critical that we get our five best players – outside of the quarterback and the five O-linemen – on the field," Clawson said.

While nothing is carved in stone except the QB and the five linemen, it appears almost certain that there will be a tight end and at least two wide receivers on the field for Tennessee's opening snap vs. UCLA. They play vital roles in the West Coast scheme.

"The fullback is competing against the second tight end and the third receiver," Clawson said. "We need to get our best five on the field. If our best five are two receivers, a tight end and two backs, then we'll play with a fullback.

"But if our second tight end is better than our fullback, then we won't play with a fullback. And if our third receiver is playing better than our fullback and our second tight end, BOTH of those guys will be on the bench."

Tennessee's most recent scrimmage saw Jonathan Crompton working as the No. 1 quarterback behind a first-team line of Ramon Foster and Chris Scott at tackle, Anthony Parker at center, Vladimir Richard and Jacques McClendon at guard. Arian Foster was at tailback, with Kevin Cooper at fullback, Luke Stocker at tight end, Josh Briscoe and Gerald Jones at receiver.

That lineup could be subject to extensive change, however, since four potential starters – wideouts Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers, center Josh McNeil and tight end Jeff Cottam – missed the scrimmage with injuries. With no jobs locked up, the competition should be fierce when Tennessee's players assemble in August for preseason drills.

As Clawson noted: "When Jeff Cottam comes back – with the spring Luke Stocker had – we're going to have good competition … not just at the (tight end) position but between positions."

Although the coordinator wants his 11 best on the field most of the time, there will be occasions when Tennessee's personnel grouping will be influenced by the defense the Vols are facing.

"You need to do a little bit of two tight ends," Clawson said. "But what you major in is who your best five are. I think right now, as we head into fall camp, we're going to be playing with a tight end and at least two receivers.

"I don't know if we're going to be a fullback team. I don't know if we're going to be a two-tight end team. I don't know if we're going to be a three-receiver team.

"The players will decide that in fall camp."


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