KNOXVILLE — Dave Clawson didn’t want Saturday to be the 15th and final practice of his first spring as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator.
“I wish this was the first,” he said. “I wish we had 14 more.”
With a season-opening game at UCLA about 100 days away, Clawson and head coach Phillip Fulmer aren’t ready for spring practice to be finished.
But it is.
So the next few months are up to the players.
“How good do we want to be?” receiver Gerald Jones said moments after the Orange and White game. “That’s up to us. We have to push ourselves this summer to get where we want to be.”
Saturday showed that numerous Volunteers are capable of making big plays on each side of the ball. Of course, the first-team offense played the second-team defense, and the No. 1 defense had its way with the No. 2 offense. Injuries rendered each reserve unit void of much experience, so Fulmer and Co. got their wish — a nice show for the fans.
“It’s always nice to boost your confidence,” said top tailback Arian Foster, who took just one carry before standing on the sidelines.
But most of the spring wasn’t like that. With three potential starters out of action, Tennessee’s secondary often exposed the growing pains of a new offensive system led by a new starting quarterback. Even without Brent Vinson, Marsalous Johnson and Antonio Gaines, the Vols still had a stiff defensive backfield: proven safeties Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley with rising star Dennis Rogan and spring most-improved designee DeAngelo Willingham at cornerback.
“It would have been nice to play against those guys today, but we’ll see them all summer and all fall,” quarterback Jonathan Crompton said Saturday. “We’ll see them plenty, and that’s good, because they’ll make us better.”
While John Chavis’s defense will be looking for depth behind the front seven, the UT offense must grasp a system with new concepts and terminology.
“We came a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Clawson said. “I don’t think we’re ready to play UCLA just yet.”
The Vols don’t have that much time to get ready, though, especially since coaches can’t be around them much for the next several weeks. Most of the players will spend their summer in Knoxville, and most of the February signees will enroll in June or July. Strength coach Johnny Long can supervise the weight room, and he’ll surely put the team through another grueling summer, but the football coaches can’t even organize seven-on-seven drills or video studies.
“It’s a time for us to come together and make sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Crompton said.
According to Morley, that includes taking care of academic work, keeping or getting their bodies in “football shape” and avoiding off-field temptations toward trouble.
Morley said he had no problem reminding any at-risk teammates about “what can happen if you don’t do what you’re supposed to be doing.” Feel-good comebacks like his aren’t common or easy, and he said he wouldn’t wish his situation last year on anyone.
“We have to lead by example,” Morley said. “The coaches aren’t really going to be there. They’re going to be in and out. We’re to the point now where as a team we know when to go in and lift. We know when to work out. We know when to go to class. We don’t need the coaches to do things like that if we’re going to be an elite group. We need to do it on our own.
“We’ve got to do more than what the coaches tell us. When they’re not here, we’ve still got to be working hard.”