QB not Vols' only position with a battle

QB not Vols' only position with a battle

August 15th, 2009 by Wes Rucker in Sports

KNOXVILLE -- Many Tennessee football fans closely follow the starting quarterback battle between senior Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens, but several other key spots throughout the roster are unsettled with the Volunteers exactly three weeks from opening the season against Western Kentucky.

First-year head coach Lane Kiffin hasn't publicly named anyone other than All-America safety Eric Berry a surefire starter, but clear leaders have emerged at several positions.

Many areas still seem far from settled, though, including right tackle on offense and cornerbacks and end on defense.

Today's second major preseason scrimmage could go a long way toward determining starters going into the season. Kiffin has said several times that many position battles could continue on a weekly basis all season.


In this photograph taken on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, right, talks with quarterback Jonathan Crompton during NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. The 33-year-old former Oakland Raiders coach inherited a team that finished 5-7 in 2008. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

In this photograph taken on Saturday, Aug. 8,...

The candidates: junior Jarrod Shaw, redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas.

Neither Shaw nor Douglas fits the weight mold for offensive tackle last season -- Shaw was a guard, Douglas a tight end -- but each has adjusted his lifestyle for a chance to start with four seniors up front.

Shaw, at 6-foot-4, has shed 30 pounds to get to 315. Douglas, at 6-6, has bulked up nearly that much to get to 285. Now Shaw is much quicker and Douglas is much stronger at the point of attack.

Kiffin said Shaw covered ground in a hurry to throw a pivotal block on tailback Tauren Poole's 75-yard touchdown run in last Saturday's scrimmage.

"I promise you in the spring he wouldn't have gotten there," Kiffin said. "He wouldn't have been able to do it. That's a seven-point play just from losing that weight."

Shaw said he wasn't offended when Kiffin first met with the offensive linemen and called many of them "too fat" to play in UT's new system.

"The man was right. I was too heavy," said Shaw, who used to be considered slow to play guard in the SEC. "I feel like I'm a much better player right now."

Shaw admitted Douglas is "still pushing hard," though, and the redshirt freshman promised to keep surging.

"It makes me better, it makes Jarrod better, and most importantly, it makes the team better," Douglas said.


The candidates: senior Marsalous Johnson; juniors Brent Vinson and Dennis Rogan; sophomores Art Evans, Anthony Anderson and C.J. Fleming; freshmen Mike Edwards and Eric Gordon.

UT sorely lacks depth in several areas, but cornerback is not among them. Many of the candidates have been sidelined for parts of preseason camp -- and Vinson's sore hamstring has caused him to miss most of it -- but big plays have been plentiful.

"Only a couple of us can start, but I think a lot of us will play -- or will be good enough to play," Vinson said. "It's a great, competitive situation. I can't wait to get back out there and add to it."

Rogan, a former starting cornerback, has spent most of preseason camp at safety. But if redshirt freshman Prentiss Waggner continues to play well and holds down the starting spot alongside Berry, coaches said Rogan can switch back to corner without hesitation.

Anderson has been one of camp's biggest surprises. After playing safety for four years at Knoxville's Austin-East High School and his first two years at UT, Anderson switched to corner before spring practice and quickly took to the position.

"He's having a great camp," Berry said. "He's been at corner long enough to where he doesn't really have to do that much thinking. He can just use his athletic ability, and he's one of the best athletes on the team. He can run for days and things like that.

"He feels comfortable there, and he says it feels like his natural position."

Anderson, who signed with Berry's class but redshirted his first season, said he never fought the switch despite no previous experience at the position.

"You don't have to think as much at corner, unlike safety, where you're the quarterback of the defense," Anderson said. "I play better off of just instinct and athletic ability, and the change they made, I was shocked ... but I love the opportunity to finally get on the field.

"I worked all offseason to get my feet quicker, get my hips better and increase my speed to have a chance to start at corner."


The candidates: Juniors Ben Martin and Gerald Williams.

Junior Chris Walker has unofficially cemented one starting end position, but Williams has seriously pushed Martin on the other side. The likely will split time, and several other young ends could also earn playing time, but the battle to start alongside Walker has heated up. Williams earned first-team status earlier this week, and Kiffin said Williams hasn't done anything to lose that title.

"I feel as good as I've felt since I've been here," Williams said. "I need to keep getting better every day, but I feel like I have been getting better every day, so I've just got to keep it going."