KNOXVILLE — We’ll never know what might have been. How positively, absolutely dangerous the University of Tennessee offense might have become against No. 4 Florida Saturday afternoon inside Neyland Stadium.
The plan was almost perfect. The Vols would sneak sophomore Gerald Jones onto the field for meaningful minutes and snaps at quarterback in new UT offensive coordinator Dave Clawson’s Claw-fense.
The idea was to out-Tebow the quarterback on the other side of the field, Heisman winner Tim Tebow.
Then Jones had to say this at Tuesday’s weekly media event: “If we can shake things up by letting me use my arm, I think that will be to our advantage.”
At least it would have been. Instead, loose lips sink ships and top-secret game plans. Instead, the Gators will arrive this weekend knowing that Jones is ready to diversify his role.
No longer will he presumably always run from the G-Gun attack that former offensive coordinator and current Duke coach David Cutcliffe crafted for Jones last year.
That worked wonderfully much of the time. Jones would move from his customary wide receiver position, lining up at quarterback. His eight snaps from that spot yielded two touchdowns, 58 yards on the ground and a 7.2 yards-per-carry average.
But two rushing attempts this season have produced no scores while Jones has caught two touchdown passes totaling 34 yards, both of them coming last week against UAB.
“Any time that you have a player who can do more than one thing you become hard to defend,” said Clawson, who coached versatile Philadelphia Eagles player Brian Westbrook when he was at Villanova.
“Brian could line up at fullback, tailback, slot, outside receiver, trips receiver. There’s a lot of different things you can do when you have a player like that.”
Especially if you had a player with whom the other side wasn’t as familiar as they possibly needed to be. A quick check of Jones’ high school stats shows he passed for 1,202 yards and 21 touchdowns during his senior season at Millwood High in Oklahoma City.
Last time we checked, the Sooner State played pretty good prep football.
But what now?
Would the Vols be tempted to move defensive back Eric Berry to quarterback, since he might be the only athlete on the team more talented and versatile than Jones?
And does this have as much to do with a supposed foot injury to starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton as the unique gifts of Jones?
“Gerald is unique because he was a high school quarterback,” Clawson said. “But Gerald is also really, really smart. Most guys, when they learn an offense, they first try to learn what they do, then try to learn the whole scope. Gerald was able to love the concepts in a week.”
Jones wasn’t quite so smart on Jan. 11 of this year. He was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana while driving two recruits around Knoxville.
“I didn’t want to leave my dorm room,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to go to class. I felt like every person who saw me knew what happened.”
The guilt and embarrassment grew so intense that he briefly considered transferring.
“But then Coach (Phillip) Fulmer told me, ‘A man faces his mistakes and turns them into something positive,’” Jones said. “I made up my mind that this offense is for me and this school is for me.”
To prove that, he fired a 17-yard scoring pass in the spring game, then told the media in classic third-person delivery, “People wanted to know if Gerald can throw. Yes, Gerald can throw.”
Actually, Jones can throw and run and catch and grasp complex offensive sets before the rest of the team has even seen them.
After he dropped by the coaches’ offices early Tuesday morning and perfectly diagrammed a play the Vols have yet to use in a game, Fulmer said, “He’s amazing.”
Just not as amazing as he might have been if he could have kept his mouth shut four more days.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...