"Watching them on film, I had certain expectations of the things they would do well and wouldn't do well," the new coordinator said. "When you work with them on a daily basis ... sometimes you're surprised in a good way and sometimes you're disappointed."
Fortunately for Tennessee, Clawson saw more risers than fallers this spring.
"There are certain players that you expected more from," he noted. "Based on the film, you thought they'd be ahead of where they were. But I think there were more players where it was a pleasant surprise … especially a lot of the young guys."
That's encouraging since many of the "young guys" could be key players. Guys like redshirt freshman receiver Ahmad Paige and sophomore tight end Luke Stocker, who shared recognition as "Most Improved Offensive Player" of the spring. Also guys like sophomore tailback Lennon Creer, sophomore fullback Kevin Cooper and sophomore receiver Gerald Jones.
All played sparingly, if at all, in 2007. All appear capable of being major contributors in 2008. The reason, Clawson says, is simple.
"Now that they've been through a season of college football there was a better understanding of how to play at the speed they need to play at," the coordinator said. "You always see the biggest growth in spring for the freshmen about to be sophomores and the sophomores about to be juniors."
Clawson singled out three players who really caught his eye this spring.
"If you say, ‘Who are the guys who really stepped forward?' ... Gerald Jones, Luke Stocker and Lennon Creer," the coordinator said. "Those are probably the guys who showed the most strides, and you'd expect that."
As is the case every year at every school, several of Tennessee's highest-profile players have not lived up to expectations. They had better start reaching their potential pretty soon.
"They need to," Clawson said. "That's part of coaching college football.... Sometimes guys come in with all this hype and all these ratings and they never get it done."
Conversely, some unheralded guys such as Stocker and Cooper turn out to be unpolished gems.
"Some guys exceed your expectations," Clawson said. "I think a lot of it is ‘want-to.'"
Basically, football means more to some guys than it does to others. If a guy has great talent but a lackadaisical approach, he risks being beaten out by a guy with less talent but a gung-ho approach.
Clawson put it this way: "How important is it? How hard are they going to work at it? In my experience, the guys it's important to, that have a certain ability level, that really apply themselves, end up being the guys that play for you."
"A guy can be a five-star (prospect) but if they don't put the time into it and don't work at it, they're not going to get better.... That's the nature of (coaching): There's always guys that disappoint you and don't progress the way they should because they allow distractions and other things to get in the way.
"There's other guys that, because it's so important to them and they work so hard at it, they become players that help you win football games."
And, as Clawson discovered this spring, those guys don't always show up in film study.