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The Volunteers will play to their strengths behind an experienced line of blockers
To the naked eye, junior quarterback Jonathan Crompton says, Tennessee's offense under new coordinator Dave Clawson won't seem much different from the one the Volunteers ran under David Cutcliffe for the past two years. Opponents will still get heavy doses of tailback Arian Foster, and Crompton will get a chance to show off his cannonlike arm in a vertical passing game not unlike the one Erik Ainge executed for Cutcliffe.
However, those who focus on the big guys in front of Crompton will notice something unusual: On one play All-SEC guard Anthony Parker may line up on the right side, on the next he might line up on the left. That's because in Clawson's offense, right and left don't exist on the line. Instead, there is strong and quick. The strong guard and tackle line up on the same side as the tight end; the quick guard and tackle line up on the weak side. So why aren't they called the weak guard and tackle? "I don't want to be weak," Parker says. "That's not a good thing."
Nomenclature aside, the Vols -- who return all five starters on a line that gave up only four sacks in 2007 -- adjusted quickly to the concept, which isn't new. In fact, it's decidedly old school. When Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer played guard for the Vols, from 1968 through '71, he and his linemates switched sides based on strength. But as the college game became more specialized, coaches kept their linemen in one place. Clawson, most recently the coach at Division I-AA Richmond, tried the concept a few years ago and realized his players didn't have to waste practice time running every play to both sides. It also helped unclutter the linemen's minds as they assessed the defense before the snap.
A more efficient Tennessee offense would give opposing defenses nightmares. Foster, who ran for 1,193 yards last season, needs only 685 to supplant Travis Henry as the school's alltime leading rusher. Wideout Lucas Taylor caught 73 passes for 1,000 yards as a junior, and sophomore Gerald Jones can catch the deep ball or line up at quarterback as a change of pace from Crompton.
One person who will be grateful if Clawson's offense controls the ball is defensive coordinator John Chavis, who must replace both ends and middle linebacker Jerod Mayo, the 10th pick in the NFL draft. Another is Fulmer, who hired Clawson after Cutcliffe took the head job at Duke. "[Clawson] is a football junkie like I am," Fulmer says. "We can sit there and discuss and argue. There are a lot of good things to come out of that." -- Andy Staples
Issue date: August 11, 2008
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