Clausen disappointed with WR corps

Casey Clausen isn't one to make excuses. But the Vols' junior quarterback suggested to a roomful of reporters on Friday that Tennessee's coaching staff may have made a mistake by failing to bolster the team's wide receiver corps last spring.

''I would've moved Rashad or Mark and put them out there (at receiver),'' Clausen said, referring to junior safeties Rashad Baker and Mark Jones, both of whom were heralded receivers in high school. ''That's what I would've done.''

Clausen figured either Baker or Jones would've upgraded a receiver corps that was sadly lacking this season. He suggested as much to Vol head man Phillip Fulmer last August.

''I went to Coach and said, 'What do you think about this?' '' Clausen said. ''That's when we started working with them.''

Baker, the starting free safety, was nagged by injuries much of the season which might've limited his contributions at receiver. But Jones, a reserve strong safety, might've proved invaluable on offense.

With Kelley Washington back at wide receiver and Jason Witten returning at tight end, Clausen noted that: ''We needed another guy opposite of those two, and we would've been back to where we were last year. We didn't need a guy like Donte' (Stallworth) to catch 90 balls. We just needed a guy that could make a play, make one guy miss and do that.''

Clausen made clear that he was not criticizing UT's youthful receiver corps, conceding that even Stallworth ''took two or three years to develop.'' Still, he recognized last March that Tennessee's young wideouts were not ready to provide top-notch play.

''I had concerns in spring practice; I had concerns in two-a-days,'' Clausen said. ''I felt there could've been ways to solve the problem right away (moving Baker or Jones to offense). But, as a team, we decided not to do that. We felt one of our guys would come along.''

Although Clausen chose his words carefully, he obviously was discouraged by the lack of production from UT's wideout corps. The friction began last April. Tony Brown was voted Most Improved Offensive Player of spring practice, but the rest of UT's young wideouts were virtual washouts. Then, when Clausen showed up for ''voluntary'' summer workouts, he found few of UT's young receivers and running backs on hand.

''When we went out, all the guys who are making plays were there,'' he recalled. ''And all the young guys who were inexperienced and immature WEREN'T.''

Shortly threafter the Vol quarterback chastised the young tailbacks and wideouts for their lack of dedication. The message, as he recalls it, went something like this:

''I would think that, with the departure of Travis Stephens as the starting running back and the departure of Donte', you guys would be here every single day, busting your butts and trying to win a starting spot. You're either with us or you're not.''

Asked why he believes the youthful Vols missed those valuable summer workouts, Clausen replied: ''Immaturity, I think.''

He backed off a bit at this point, noting that ''Since then, they have worked hard.... In two or three years, some of these guys are going to be real good players.''

After a brief pause, however, he added: ''But we're looking at TODAY.''

Ultimately, the Vols waited throughout the spring, the preseason and 12 regular-season games for a young wideout to emerge. It never happened, which is a major reason Tennessee slumped to 8-4 this fall.

''The most frustrating thing is that we had question marks in the spring, question marks in the summer time and question marks during the season,'' Clausen said. ''If you ask me, those questions haven't been answered. That's the most frustrating thing.''

Because those questions haven't been answered, Clausen said the Vols ''definitely need some help in recruiting. If you're a young receiver or a junior college receiver and you're not considering Tennessee, you've got some problems. You definitely need some help.''

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