Pass the Ammunition

Truisms in college football recruiting are as rare as the truth itself, but one that qualifies as tired and true is the time-honored pursuit of big-time quarterbacks — you are always looking for your next three-year starter.

Between college juniors being NFL eligible and true freshman enrolling early that three-year window is often compressed, which is why more and more freshmen are starting four seasons right out of high school. The timing of these processes can be difficult to sync, but Florida's transition from Chris Leak to Tim Tebow and the two national titles it yielded in three years stand as the ideal example of obtaining optimum results.

Tennessee's transitions have been anything but smooth over the last decade, beginning with 2000 when no fewer than three QBs Joey Mathew, A.J. Suggs and Casey Clausen drew starts before Clausen settled into the job by midseason. The probably was UT started out 2-3 as the struggles behind center continued unabated.

In those first five games Tennessee lost to Florida 27-23 on a controversial call that gave the Gators the win. UT went on to lose to LSU in overtime 38-31 at Baton Rouge and dropped a hard fought 21-10 loss in Athens. The signal caller crisis didn't have to be one if Tee Martin has redshirted and had his senior season in 2000 instead of 1999. That would have given him a third year as a proven veteran while providing time to groom a successor.

After starting three more season Clausen graduated in 2004 and the Vols went through the same type of problem starting true freshmen Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge until both went down with injuries and Rick Clausen started the last four games.

That set the stage for a disastrous 2005 as Ainge started the season only to lose the job to Clausen after he led the Vols to an comeback victory over LSU in OT. The two swapped QB-1 and QB-1A status back in forth through a series of narrow defeats and a 5-6 record.

David Cutcliffe was brought back to The Hill and Ainge became his reclamation project. The 6-6 pocket passer put together a pair of solid seasons in 2006-2007. However the lack of an efficient transition in 2008 probably cost Phillip Fulmer his job as the Vols' 5-7 season was underscored by an undermanned offense that underachieved, underperformed and underwhelmed Big Orange fans.

Now Kiffin has the job of cobbling together a new offense with spare parts of a scrapped system spearheaded by a trio of quarterbacks that were all highly rated coming out of high school, but have yet to prove themselves in college. The fact UT has no go-to receivers or an established deep threat compounds the challenge facing the Boy Wonder and his offensive brain trust.

But his challenge doesn't end there as he's also looking to sign the handpicked successor of this season's QB sweepstakes winner. If he's to get who he wants and when he wants them he'd love to have top ranked Jake Heap right now. He'd be closely followed by Phillip Simms of Oscar F. Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va. Both of these elite taskmasters have been offered by the Vols.

However if the process becomes more protracted, top tier QB prospects will watch carefully to see who comes out of spring practice as UT's starter. If it's fifth year senior Jonathan Crompton, UT's chances to secure a premier passer will improve. However if it's B. J. Coleman, who will be a redshirt sophomore next fall it might discourage a prospect looking to come in and start in 2009. The same is true to a lesser degree if Nick Stephens, a redshirt junior next fall, is anointed the starter in April.

Another quarterback prospect to keep an eye on is David Olsen of Irmo High School in Columbia, S.C., who is scheduled to attend UT's junior day this weekend. At 6-3, 205, Olsen is considered by some analysts as the best prospect at his position in the state and one of the best in the southeast. Olsen is being recruited by QB coach David Reaves who became familiar with the athlete as South Carolina's recruiting coordinator. Olsen, who was invited to attend the Elite 11 training camp is drawing serious interest from Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Virginia, and Wake Forest among others.

The biggest name on UT's QB board is Nick Montana of Oaks Christians High School in Westlake Village, Calif. He has made an unofficial visit to Knoxville this winter. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound son of NFL great Joe Montana is an athletic, mobile quarterback who is an effective drop-back passer. As a junior, he passed for over 2,500 yards to lead his team to a 14-0 record. Montana has been offered by Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Stanford.

To this point Tennessee isn't thought to have extended an offer to Montana, but another recruiting truism states that everything is subject to change.

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