Coleman warms up

He completed 17 of 22 passes for 112 yards in Saturday's scrimmage, yet he believes his greatest improvement has come off the football field, not on it.

"I think I've made the most progress in the film room, becoming a student of the game," sophomore quarterback B. J. Coleman said following the two-hour workout. "These coaches – Coach (Jim) Chaney, Coach (David) Reaves and Coach (Lane) Kiffin – have done a heck of a job teaching us solid football. I'm very, very thankful for that, and I'm looking forward to growing in my knowledge as we continue on."

Coleman developed a reputation as a heady quarterback during his days at Chattanooga McCallie. He blossomed into a big-time prospect as a senior, completing 6 of 7 passes for 100 yards in leading the West team to victory in the East Meets West All-American Game at Orlando.

After redshirting as a Vol freshman in 2007, Coleman finally got to throw his first collegiate pass in Game 11 of 2008. He completed 4 of 8 passes for 21 yards against Vanderbilt that day but threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He did not play in Game 12 vs. Kentucky and remained something of an unknown quantity heading into spring practice.

A so-so performance in the March 28 scrimmage suggested Coleman might be struggling with the new pro-style offense UT is installing this spring. He showed he "gets it" Saturday, however, by bouncing back in a big way. Still, he praised his teammates and said very little about himself.

"I thought the passing game was crisp," he said. "It could've been better. At the same time, those receivers did a heck of a job making plays, making big catches."

Coleman finished with a flourish, overcoming two 10-yard holding penalties to march the No. 2 offense 50 yards for a touchdown on the scrimmage's final possession. He completed seven of seven passes on the drive, including a 15-yarder to fullback Austin Johnson, a 16-yarder to wideout Todd Campbell, an 18-yarder to wideout Brandon Warren and a 19-yarder to walk-on tight end Ben Lehning, who made a spectacular leaping grab at the 2-yard line.

"I'm very proud of Ben Lehning for hanging onto that big ball down near the end zone, so we could stick it across the goal line," Coleman said.

As usual, the 6-3, 210-pound Chattanooga native was humble when asked to assess his own performance.

"The most important thing is to get better from week to week," he said. "I've got a long way to go."

So does Tennessee's offense. Still, it has made significant strides in the past 10 days.

"I'm excited to watch this film," Coleman said. "I'm pleased with the energy the guys have in the huddle and how they responded there at the end to put that ball across the goal line."

He was especially pleased with how tailbacks Montario Hardesty, Tauren Poole and Toney Williams performed on Saturday.

"Those are excellent guys – not just on the field but off the field," Coleman said. "They take care of business in the classroom, studying in the film room. Those are Class-A kind of guys.

"They work hard. They're good running backs but they're good, solid people, too. They're going to go a long way, and it's good to have three of 'em, so you can rotate 'em in and out and keep 'em fresh."

Coleman was understandably encouraged that the Vols ripped off nine runs of 10 yards or more Saturday, noting: "It's a lot of fun when you can hand the ball off and watch a guy go for 25 yards, pick up a first down and get ready to roll again."

Obviously, the more opposing defenses have to focus on Tennessee's ground game, the more opportunity there is for Tennessee's passing game to excel. That's why Coleman was grateful for the rushing attack UT mounted on Saturday.

"Unbelievable," he said. "It really tightens those defenses up. They have to bring the secondary up, so we can get behind them in the receiving corps. The air game and the ground game have to complement one another. You can't be stronger in one or the other. They have to be evenly matched and, with these backs, I believe we're on our way."


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