UT's Search For QB Continues

Here we are three weeks before national signing day and Tennessee's search for a future quarterback is no closer to completion.

One by one all the top 10 signal callers have declared for other schools, leaving the Vols to sift through the clearance bin in hopes of finding a bargain capable of becoming a competent backup in a matter of months.

Among those to tell the Vols thanks, but no thanks, are No. 1 Kyle Wright, No. 3 JaMarcus Russell, No. 5 Robert Lane, No. 6 Justin Midgett, No. 11 Richard Kovalcheck, No. 13 Brady Quinn and No. 38 Chris Hawkins.

Of course much of the rejection stems from the long-held public presumption that No. 2 Chris Leak would sign with Tennessee. Once that situation fell through it was too late to get in on other top signal callers — a situation very similar to 1999 when another Chris (Sims) committed to the Vols only to later decommit in favor of another UT (Texas).

Like 1999, when Tennessee had an established senior quarterback (Tee Martin) returning, the Vols will have Casey Clausen at the controls in 2003, but unlike ‘99 when A.J. Suggs was in Tennessee's fold, they don't have any other QB prospect committed.

Certainly landing a high-caliber quarterback will head UT's recruiting priorities next season, but it could also create a vacuum headed into the 2004 campaign without a reliable drop-back trigger man on hand to take over. Paying for playing experience against the likes of Florida, Georgia and Alabama can be costly, as Tennessee learned in 2000 in close defeats to Florida, LSU and Georgia.

Tennessee's last best chance might be No. 14 Michael Bush of Louisville Male High School. At 6-4, 230, and with 4.5 speed, Bush is a great athlete with outstanding potential at several positions. However he has only played one full season at quarterback so there are still serious questions about his state of readiness at the collegiate level. But that's the position he wants to play and every school recruiting him intends to give Bush that chance. Ohio State, which also has an establish senior returning at QB, figures to be tough to beat for Bush.

Another quarterback candidate to emerge in recent days is Steven Moffett (6-3, 190, 4.6) of Winter Park, Fla., who is scheduled to visit on Jan. 24. Moffett is an accurate passer with good mobility, but he's not the caliber of QB UT would normally be chasing this late in the process. Central Florida and Georgia have a head start on the Vols which might prove tough to overcome.

That leads to a second tier of signal callers the Vols are recruiting which include: Jackson Central-Merry's Bo Hardegree (6-4, 185, 4.9), Zach Richardson (6-5, 210, 4.8) of Marietta, Ga. and Cliff Davis (6-5, 215, 4.8) of Eupora, Miss. Hardegree checks in at No. 89 nationally, Richardson is No. 63 and Davis is No. 52.

That's a considerable drop after a run of such stellar top five QBs as Heath Shuler, Peyton Manning, Tee Martin and Casey Clausen. It's sort of like Cindy Crawford going to a dating service trying to find a match.

This is not to say the Vols couldn't find an outstanding quarterback prospect among the lower ranks of prospects, but the odds do become much longer. However hope springs eternal in the hearts of the Big Orange faithful especially when it comes to recruiting. And there are great examples of quarterbacks that weren't highly recruited that went on to enjoy great success at the Division I level. For instance: no recruiting gurus thought Marshall broke the bank when it signed Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich.

Also remember that C.J. Fayton, James Banks, C.J. Leak and Joey Matthews were all rated as top 15 QB prospects nationally coming out of high school.

No, a high ranking at quarterback is no guarantee of success, but it does eliminate a lot of the guesswork.


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