QB Or Not QB?

Some might call rotating four players at the team's most prominent position a game of musical quarterbacks, but the way things have gone for Tennessee in 2008 it's more like Russian Roulette with one empty chamber.

There's no denying the play at quarterback has been substandard but is that the fault of the quarterbacks alone? In the case of Jonathan Crompton it's odd that he would regress so dramatically from the level of play he exhibited in a 28-24 loss to LSU which had one of the country's top defenses. Crompton came in the second quarter in relief of Eric Ainge with the Vols down 7-0 and put them ahead three quarters later. It was the Vols defense that gave up the game winning touchdown after the offense marched down the field to take the lead with less than two minutes to go.

That was when he was a redshirt freshman with no significant game experience. He hung in the pocket under pressure and dropped a couple of picture perfect passes into the sure hands of Robert Meachem for touchdowns off play-action fakes. Last season he languished on the bench as Ainge got the lion's share of the playing time. Nick Stephens saw even less playing time and B. J. Coleman redshirted. Therefore every QB on UT's squad was largely a question mark coming into the season. The same was true of the offense and when we finally saw the two together they didn't seem to match.

The fact that neither the quarterbacks or offense ever got better is it not more reasonable to think something was wrong with one offensive scheme as opposed to three quarterbacks that were all rated top 15 nationally? The fact they are having the same difficulties and don't appear to be getting better, but instead getting worse, seems to suggest there's some type of disconnect in the coaching or teaching aspect of the game. It also looks like these are basically three drop back, pocket passers that are being misused in a system that seems better suited to a dual threat quarterback you'd normally see in the spread.

Described before the season started as a west coast offense, they must have been talking about the west coast of Siberia because it didn't resemble any west coast offense I've ever seen. Even if it was pure west coast as first conceived by Bill Walsh there wasn't any indication the Vols had the personnel to support it. A fact that was later confirmed as UT's receivers couldn't consistently get off the line of scrimmage, making synchronization and timing impossible.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of UT's 2008 offense is the drop off in offensive line play from 2007 when the Vols averaged over 30 points per game and allowed only five sacks in 14 games. Virtually the same O-line, minus only starter Eric Young, this season allowed six sacks against Alabama alone.

The Vols haven't been able to pick up blitzes consistently and have had far too many blown assignments. A lot of people have pointed to the loss of Eric Ainge as the reason the offense hasn't performed but you have to wonder how well Ainge would have played if he had ever been sacked six times in a game? He wouldn't have completed 68 percent of his passes or have been nearly as comfortable as he was last season when he rarely had as much as a hand in his face. Look at some of the shots UT's signal callers have taken this year and it's a wonder they're still standing.

The running game has had it's moments but not against good teams and not to the degree it did in 2007. The first three tailbacks are the same as last year as is the starting fullback. The wide receivers are all back but not in black. No big-play artists, although Denarius Moore did develop into a deep threat. One consistent playmaker in Gerald Jones, but no go-to receiver. And no receiver that draws consistent double coverage. Make no mistake there have been enough bad passes this year to last a lifetime, but how many great catches have you seen? How many drops? Think about the problems the Vols receivers have had getting any type of separation. Did they have those same problems in 2007?

Quarterbacks always get too much credit as well as too much blame. It goes with the terrriotry. The trio of quarterbacks Tennessee has all have talent and were sought by most of the best schools in the country. Crompton was a five-star prospect ranked No. 2 among quarterbacks by Scout.com. Stephens was a four-star ranked No. 11 nationally and Coleman was a four-star ranked No. 15 in the Class of 2007. If they didn't have the talent to be effective collegiate quarterbacks all those coaches as well as UT's coaches were wrong.

But if they weren't wrong, the responsibility falls on the Vols' coaching staff to develop the talent of these quarterbacks. Or at the very least get one of them game ready and combat effective.


In 16 games against rival Vanderbilt and each finished 15-1 reasserting dominance in the series that was lost in Bill Battle's last three seasons (1974, 1975, 1976) when the Vols went 1-1-1 in a series of games that were as close as the record indicates with the Vols tying in 1974 21-21, losing in 1975 17-14 and winning in 1976 13-10. In fact it was the virtual stalemate in the series against Vanderbilt that signaled the decline in UT's talent level that was later confirmed when Majors took over.

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