QBs on the Horizon

Whether Tennessee signs a quarterback in the Class of 2009 or is just clearing the runway for a big landing in 2010 is a matter of conjecture, but it's a dead solid certainty the next signal caller the Vols get will fit Lane Kiffin's offense to a T.

That would appear to be a 6-foot-5, 230-pound, strong armed taskmaster, who can stand tall in the pocket and thread the needle on a deep out run to the far hash mark. It's no coincidence that Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart are both of those exact dimensions or that they both won the Heisman and were first round draft choices running the same USC offense that Kiffin is planning to deploy at Tennessee.

Another quality shared by these classic read-and-rip passers is the ability to problem solve under pressure. Battling an aggressive defense, a deficit, a play clock, a game clock and perhaps a hostile crowd raising the decibel level to the deafening category, a quality pro-style quarterback must make a pre-snap read, audible to an appropriate counter measure and execute the play. The best of this breed has poise in the pocket, amid the raging tempest they abide in the eye of the storm and often reap the whirlwind — never seeing the perfect passes they complete under withering pressure until they watch it on film.

While the 2009 Class of quarterbacks has been whittled down to only a few standouts that are available, there is always the possibility someone filling the bill could become available, or that there is a suitable junior college option could be located, the likely candidate to be Kiffin's handpicked signal caller will be in the Class of 2010. It's equally as probable Kiffin will try to add two QBs to train for the system.

Any disadvantage in terms of experience a freshman may have to overcome, could be offset by arriving with a clean slate, whereas UT's other three scholarship quarterbacks have had to contend with at least two different offensive systems and in the case of Jonathan Crompton it's four under his fourth different coordinator. Having learned no other system since high school a freshman is more pliable. Moreover he is inherently better suited for the offense since he's selected by the coach who designed it.

However since a qualified candidate is not immediately apparent, the three quarterbacks — Crompton, Nick Stephens and B. J. Coleman — that ended the 2008 season in a scramble for playing time will compete again this spring for a starting position next fall.

Under Fulmer the Vols extended scholarships to three quarterbacks — Jake Heaps of Skyline High School in Issaquah, Wa., Phillip Sims of Oscar F. Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va., and Malik Stokes of Northeast High School in Philadelphia, Pa., who is the brother of UT receiver prospect JeRon Stokes.

Of these prospects Heap has already been awarded a five-star rating, while Sims is a four-star and Stokes is not yet ranked. The problem with this trio in terms of playing the pro system is their lack of height, None in this QB trio is listed taller than 6-foot-2.

That places added emphasis on the May evaluation period as UT's staff fans out to eyeball and evaluate the best prospects nationally.

Perhaps the best fit among available prospects in the Class of 2009 in terms of size and arm strength is Raymond Cotton, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback from Meade Senior High School in Ft. Meade, Md., who is ranked No. 21 nationally at his position. In 2007 he led Fatih Academy to the state title game against Troy with 1,300 yards passing for 17 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns.

A starter since a sophomore, he passed for 2,300 yards and 24 TDs, and rushed for over 700 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior. UT hasn't made an offer yet but are said to be interested. He originally committed to Auburn but revisited his options after Tuberville resigned. Cotton has official visits set for Southern Miss and Ole Miss in January. He is also considering offers from Florida, Auburn and Arkansas.

A junior college possibility is Dallas Walker, who played his high school ball in Madison, Miss. He originally signed with Memphis out of high school but later transferred to Georgia Military where he redshirted in 2007. Walker checks in at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, but may lack the passing skills Kiffin is looking for.

After having coached a pair of Heisman winning QBs Kiffin's discrimination is understandable.

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