Small victories

The axiom "Don't sweat the small stuff" is not an option for a major college football team. The "small stuff" often proves to the be the difference between winning and losing.

And that, more than anything else, has first-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson pleased coming out of spring practice. The Vols didn't blow him away with mind-boggling progress in any major area but they pleased him by making steady progress in a bunch of minor areas.

In fact, when asked to pinpoint the most encouraging development of the spring, he replied: "There was a lot of little stuff. Early, when we put in the play-action stuff, there was no mesh between the quarterback and the tailback.

"Later in the spring, when we had the play-action game, we had linebackers jumping up (taking the fake) because the play-action looked like the run. Just little things like that … more attention to detail."

Warming to the task, Clawson quickly pointed out progress in another small area that could make a big impact this fall.

"When we started spring the quarterbacks would drop to pass and they'd end up somewhere over the guard," the coordinator recalled, flashing a pained grin. "The other day they were behind the center. Simple things like that."

The 2008 Vols Clawson inherited are mostly guys who played for David Cutcliffe in 2007. Complicating matters is the fact that many of them – quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton, Nick Stephens and B. J. Coleman, for instance – played very little for Cutcliffe in 2007. In addition, Clawson's approach differs from Cutcliffe's in several areas. As a result, the new coordinator had to spend much of spring ball teaching fundamentals.

"There are certain things you like to assume when you come in," Clawson said, "but you don't find those things out until you get it installed. With some details, it's not better or worse than what was done before … it's just different."

Those differences were particularly noteworthy in regards to junior Jonathan Crompton, the heir-apparent at quarterback. After three years in Cutcliffe's offensive system, Crompton had to unlearn some old things before he could learn some new things.

"Jonathan's a guy who's been here for three years and was coached a certain way," Clawson noted. "A lot of the principles are similar but in some cases they're different – where we set up in play-action, for instance."

Tennessee's backup QBs also had to make some adjustments this spring, as well. Sophomore Nick Stephens had two years in Cutcliffe's system and redshirt freshman B.J. Coleman had one.

At the beginning of spring practice, Crompton, Stephens and Coleman were doing so much thinking that the play clock wasn't even used in Tennessee's first scrimmage. As the spring progressed, however, all three began doing the right things instinctively.

Clawson noted that the QBs will continue operating more quickly and more smoothly "as the way we're doing it now becomes habit, as opposed to the way it was done.

"Those, to me, are the most encouraging things … the things they do without thinking."


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