August 11, 2008

Competition, depth fuel WRs

Josh Briscoe has been through his share of scrimmages with the Tennessee football team and ranks among the Volunteers' elder statesmen.

But at a position of considerable depth, Briscoe is taking nothing -- certainly not his spot in the wide receivers' rotation -- for granted as UT prepares to open its season Sept. 1 at UCLA.

"We've been just pushing each other hard," said Briscoe, who snagged two passes for 50 yards in Saturday's initial scrimmage. "We know that right now we have four or five guys that are competing for starting spots. If you make a mistake today, tomorrow you're going to be out of that contingent and you have to work your way back up.

"We've been pushing each other hard and making sure that every ball thrown to us is caught, and we're making positive yards after that."

The senior Briscoe and sophomore Gerald Jones were the starting wide receivers in the intrasquad battle where the Vols opened with a two tight end set of Luke Stocker and Brandon Warren. Starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton completed 12 of 16 tosses for 114 yards; Crompton, Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman combined to connect on 27 of 39 attempts. There were few dropped balls by any receivers.

"We've got good depth there, and it's forcing the cream to the top," offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "But I think it also allows you to keep guys fresh, and hopefully we've got 14 games to play here. If you play 14 games, at some point guys are going to get dinged and worn down and having that type of depth hopefully keeps us a fresh football team."


Though the tailback trio of Montario Hardesty, Lennon Creer and Tauren Poole combined for just 45 rushing yards, Clawson found signs of encouragement for the unit that worked without starter Arian Foster.

"Better than it's been. I thought we ran the ball decently (Saturday)," Clawson said. "Right now, I just think up front we're getting better push and getting hats on hats. I think our backs are making better vertical cuts. I just think there's an overall better understanding of what we're trying to do."

Guard Vladimir Richard echoed Clawson's sentiments.

"Our mindset was to get movement," Richard said. "We were getting our hats in the right place. We were getting movement. Sometimes certain looks they were in all the movement, and sometimes it was just the way we were blocking, probably.

"As an overall line, we were working hard. Coaches say No. 1 is effort. Our pads were low, which is a good sign. We're getting some push, not as much as we wanted to, but we know that we're able to do it and we're just going to get better."

Much as the Vols' defensive linemen and linebackers had to pull up around the quarterbacks, the limitations on the offensive blocking scheme -- specifically no cut-blocking to prevent injuries -- also muddled the picture.

"Really, like I don't even think that you can compare the two," Richard said of blocking techniques. "We're out here taking care of our teammates; we take care of one another. We're playing ball, but it's nothing like we'd be playing if we were able to do what we can do. If you watch on one of our screen plays, the right side -- me, (Josh) McNeil and Jacques (McClendon) and Chris Scott -- we were out on a screen. We were out in front, but you know we had to stay up. We hit the blocks, Montario ran up and Eric Berry ended up making the play. Eric Berry was the guy I blocked, but being that I couldn't cut him low, I blocked him and then he got up and went ahead and made the play. That little thing right there, that would have been a touchdown. That was a walk-in. We were out perfect, covering our lanes and if we could have took them low, Montario would have walked into the end zone. ...

"Those are big things, but they're little to the people that don't really understand how difficult it is for us not to be able to do all that we're supposed to."

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