Patience and poise

One of the most valuable lessons a quarterback ever learns is when to chuck it, when to tuck it and when to throw it into the front row.

If a receiver is open, you chuck it in his direction. If everyone is covered, you tuck it and run. If the pressure is coming, you throw it where no one wearing a helmet can possibly catch it. A throwaway, after all, is much better than an interception or a sack.

Tennessee's B. J. Coleman exhibited an excellent grasp of this principle in Saturday's first full-scale scrimmage of preseason. Twice he looked for his primary receiver, then his secondary receivers, saw no one open and sent the ball sailing out of bounds. That kind of patience and poise is commonplace among college seniors and juniors ... not so commonplace among redshirt freshmen.

The fact Coleman understands to take the throws that are there without trying to force the ones that aren't there suggests the 6-3, 210-pounder from Chattanooga is developing the maturity to be an SEC-caliber quarterback.

"I'm very happy with that," he said. "Sometimes you've just got to live to play another down. You always want to have the football at the end of the play, and I think that's very, very important. Sometimes when you check the ball down (your receiver progression) that's the smartest thing to do."

By all accounts, Coleman is Tennessee's most cerebral quarterback since Peyton Manning. Exhibiting intelligence in the calm of a classroom is a lot easier than doing so in the chaos of a pass pocket but Coleman is learning to make astute decisions even as 300-pound pass rushers are bearing down on him.

"Absolutely," he said. "I feel a lot more relaxed. Coach Clawson has helped me out a ton, along with Jon and Nick."

Coach Clawson, of course, is first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. Jon is first-team quarterback Jonathan Crompton and Nick is second-teamer Nick Stephens. Coleman is no threat to unseat Crompton, a fourth-year junior, but he is pushing Stephens, a third-year sophomore, for the backup job.

All three quarterbacks performed well in the opening scrimmage. Crompton was 12 of 16 for 114 yards, Stephens 8 of 11 for 108 and Coleman 7 of 12 for 66.

"B.J. had a good scrimmage, and I thought Nick did fine," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I thought all three quarterbacks did fine."

Clawson conceded that Coleman made some excellent decisions in the scrimmage.

"He did," the coordinator said. "But I hate to say things until I see the film because 90 percent of the time when I make a real bold statement about what we did well, I'll turn on the film and say, 'Why did I say that?' I've made that mistake too many times.

"From up there (press box) it appeared he had a good day. Hopefully, when I watch the film that will be confirmed."

In addition to making good decisions, Coleman made several good throws. He has a strong arm and throws a nice, tight spiral that generally finds its mark. Clearly, he has improved a lot since he arrived on campus one year ago.

"The throws feel a lot better," he said, quickly adding: "Those guys upfront are doing an excellent job and the receivers are getting where they're supposed to be. That makes things a lot easier. They're doing a great job."

In addition to being Tennessee's most cerebral QB of recent vintage, Coleman is Tennessee's most enthusiastic QB in a long time. His wide-eyed enthusiasm for football shows through in every word he speaks.

"Today was a great day of learning experiences," he said following the scrimmage, his face literally beaming. "I really, really enjoyed the opportunity to get out there and work some against our good defense.

"I got a chance to go against the No. 1 defense, and that really helped us out a lot. You have a good scrimmage but there's always something that can make it better. There are always things that could've made it a great scrimmage, and I think there's a couple of throws I could've made that would've made it that."


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