Clawson's calm

Monday night's game at UCLA is not Dave Clawson's first rodeo. It's just his first time in the saddle for Tennessee.

The Vols' first-year offensive coordinator laughed when asked this week if he has any trepidation about putting his newly installed West Coast offense on display for the first time in the 2008 season opener.

"This isn't the first time I've done this," he said. "I've been through the (installation) process four times before at other schools. You just try to get it all in, then throw it up there and see what sticks."

Clawson knows his first game in Orange will feature a few mishaps. Not everything he has taught his troops will be executed precisely in Game 1. That's why he will utilize several plays that were staples of the 2007 attack.

"A lot of the things that stick early are things that are carryover from the previous offense," he said. "Then you've really got to invest time in the things that maybe they didn't do as much."

Tennessee is doing a lot more pre-snap shifting and motioning than it did during David Cutcliffe's stint as coordinator in 2006 and 2007. Fortunately for the Vols, not everything in the 2008 offense will be quite so new.

"A lot of the shifting and motion things we really had to invest time into because that was not done as much (under Cutcliffe)," Clawson noted. "But some of the base runs, some of the base pass protections and even some of the routes, there was a lot of carryover from the previous system. Those things right away were picked up because the players had run that stuff before."

Naturally, everything Clawson installed that wasn't part of the 2007 offense has taken a little longer to incorporate.

"Some of the stuff that is different we had to devote more time to," he said, "so they're as comfortable with that as the stuff that was done previously. After every scrimmage and every practice we have a correction phase, and a lot of that time was devoted to new stuff because that's where more of the breakdowns were.

"Obviously, as we've run this more and more there were fewer breakdowns and guys were more comfortable with our system."

The biggest obstacle Clawson encountered while installing his West Coast offense at Tennessee was terminology. He always relied heavily on numbers, whereas Cutcliffe relied on tag words.

"My system is very much numbers-based, and the system here before had been very much word- and tag-based," Clawson said. "We tried to make the system a little more tag-based because those were the trigger words for the players."

After relying on the numbers system throughout spring practice, Clawson discovered that several Vols were struggling to adapt to it.

"I went through a whole spring and I met with a lot of offensive players. I'd say, 'Do you find it complicated?' They'd say, 'In a lot of ways, no, but we're so used to hearing the words that the numbers slow us down.' So I came up with words and tags.

"Sometimes something as simple as that can make them play faster, and I think that has helped them."

Openers are always nerve-wracking for coordinators, so Clawson is understandably eager to see how the Vols perform their new duties and execute their new assignments. To ensure a minimum of mishaps he may use a keep-it-simple approach Monday night.

"Now you go into the first game," Clawson said. "The score counts. If you don't get the play off in time, there is a five-yard penalty. The interceptions give the ball to the other team, and they may score. You try to limit it even further, so that any play you call the players are comfortable with."

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