Entering Tennessee's 2008 spring practice, most Vol fans had two questions on their mind: Who will start at quarterback? And who is Dave Clawson and what kind of offense will he bring to Tennessee?
Both of those questions were answered in a big way Saturday as Tennessee wrapped up their spring practice in stylish fashion.
Clawson's newly implemented offense racked up 564 yards of total offense and scored 54 points in the annual Orange and White Game—a game that turned out to be an offensive shootout rather than a defensive struggle many expected.
Before spring practice began, Tennessee's three scholarship quarterbacks, Jonathan Crompton, Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman, sat evenly in the mind of newly hired offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. But as we all know, only one quarterback would earn the right to take over Clawson's high powered schemes.
Clawson eventually chose Crompton, and the redshirt junior used an efficient day through the air and three touchdown passes to legitimize his coach's decision.
But with what (Crompton) faced today, he did make a lot of good decisions. Offensive coordinator Dave Clawson
Clawson was happy to see the success of his starting quarterback and his supporting cast but recognized the defense was limited in their abilities.
"I don't know if (the offense) was completely accurate, because the defense is limited in what they can do," Clawson said. "So, every game we play the defense will be more multiple, and a simplified defense makes the decision making process easier.
"But with what (Crompton) faced today, he did make a lot of good decisions."
The absence of workhorse running back Arian Foster allowed the rushing tandem of Tauren Poole and Lennon Creer to split time in the Volunteer backfield. The limited defense allowed Clawson to turn more inexperienced players loose and build depth immediately.
"I think on the positive, it was great to see Tauren Poole get reps with the ones," Clawson said. "It's great to see Kevin Cooper get so much work. It's great to see Denarius Moore and (Josh) Briscoe and those guys get reps with the ones. I think that will help us at some point."
Crompton also realized he will face much tougher defensive sets this fall, but their success both through the air and with youngsters on the ground was undeniably pleasing to the senior quarterback.
"I thought we played pretty good as an offense against a defense that was a little limited, but we were too," he said. "We just tried to get out here and have fun. It was the spring game so we just wanted to give the fans a show, and that's what we tried to do."
Fun is exactly what the Volunteer offense had while Crompton was under center. The very first play from scrimmage saw Crompton find Denarious Moore down the left sideline for a 74-yard touchdown, just 21 seconds into the game.
It was like, ‘Ok, now let's get out here and have fun.' Jonathan Crompton, on his first-play touchdown
"We let them know this morning that it was going to be the first call so hopefully we would have no missed assignments and no break downs and we ran a good route and it was well protected," Clawson said. "It won't always be that easy, but it certainly wasn't a bad way to start."
Crompton was also happy to get off to a hot start, saying the long touchdown helped relieve some pressure, and that allowed the offense that was finally his to let loose.
"The first pass definitely felt good," Crompton said. "It was like, ‘Ok, now let's get out here and have fun.'"
Crompton's success continued throughout the rest of the scrimmage as he finished with 266 yards passing and just one interception.
Clawson said the statistics proved his players were finally getting comfortable with his system.
"Everything they heard in spring was for the first time," Clawson said. "A lot of our play calls are numbers based and the play calls from last year were more word based, and that's very different.
"I think they're finally getting comfortable with it and hopefully when we come back for fall camp, instead of starting at square one, we'll be two or three steps down the line."
Head coach Phillip Fulmer reiterated the importance of learning the new system. It was a process that started on Clawson's first day on campus, and the coach said it was the biggest stride his team made in their spring drills.
"It was just the knowledge of the offense," Fulmer said. "Getting the ball out quick, getting the ball to playmakers, which is what we said we wanted to do from the very beginning."
Summer workouts will begin soon, but coaches are severely limited in the contact they can have with their players during this time due to NCAA regulations.
The end of practice and the lack of coaching will be challenging for the players, but Clawson said he's hopeful his offense will continue the learning process over the summer.
Now we have to get ready for UCLA. Crompton
"It's tough, but there is some carry over," Clawson said. "You hope some of the things they've learned in spring football, they then work on on their own over the summer."
The offense may be new, but it's old fashioned hard work that Crompton believes will help his team comeback more prepared for fall practice and the 2008 season.
"We don't use any of the old terminology," Crompton said. "We never have since spring started and we're out here learning and pretty much just going on the run. This summer we are going to actually reinstall it so we will know it better for the fall."
Instead of looking in the rear-view mirror, Crompton has kept his focus directed towards the fall and his national debut as the Vols unquestioned No. 1 quarterback.
"It feels great," Crompton said. "I have been waiting for this, and it's here. It is pretty much said and done. Now we have to get ready for UCLA."