KNOXVILLE — All that was missing were references to the economy and foreign affairs Thursday as Tennessee’s coordinators gave their state-of-the-program speeches in preparation for Saturday’s Orange and White Game inside Neyland Stadium.
Offensive boss Dave Clawson experienced his first taste of Division-I football this spring, and he regarded it as a success despite watching his unit struggle to move the football as the former Richmond coach’s scheme took shape.
Clawson credited the steep learning curve to the large amount of content hurled at players throughout the past two months.
“What we wanted to do as we went through the spring and evaluated the personnel, we wanted to expose them to everything that could possibly be called in the fall,” Clawson said. “It might at times not have been fair to the players, but we almost threw more at them in the spring than we will in the fall.”
The offense was also bogged down by several injuries that limited experience at many positions.
Tailback Montario Hardesty, receivers Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers, fullback David Holbert and tight end Jeff Cottam all saw no action during the spring or suffered injuries that ended their availability.
But despite setbacks and only one holdover from last season’s offensive staff, Clawson said he was pleased at the steps many players took.
“Watching them on film last year, I had certain expectation as to the things they would do well and the things they wouldn’t do well,” Clawson said. “Sometimes when you work with them on a daily basis, you are surprised in a good way and sometimes you are disappointed.
“... There are certain players that you expected more from. Based on the film, you thought they’d be ahead of where they were. But I think there were more players that were a pleasant surprise.”
On the other side of the ball, the main surprise for defensive coordinator John Chavis was just how impressive his secondary has been so far. Despite two key contributors missing the spring due to injuries, the group of Demetrice Morley, Eric Berry, Dennis Rogan and DeAngelo Willingham starred throughout scrimmages.
“This didn’t just happen in spring practice. It happened as the year went along last year with the competition,” Chavis said. “I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on young guys. But our secondary has the chance to be the strength of our defense.”
Another spot the defensive coordinator is particularly pleased with exiting spring practice is at defensive end, where Robert Ayers and Wes Brown emerged as solid starters entering the fall.
Also along the defensive front, Chavis commended defensive tackles Demonte Bolden, Dan Williams and Walter Fisher and said he hopes the development at the end and tackle positions will aid in rush defense — an area that plagued UT in 2007.
“We have been doing this for a long time, and at times last year we were as bad as we have ever been,” Chavis said of UT’s ability to stop the run. “But at times against some of the better teams we were as good a we’ve been. The thing I want is to do is be more consistent.
“When you go out and give up a 65 or 70-yarder against Arkansas State and you give up plays like that throughout the season, those plays not only get you beat but at the end of the season when you look at stats you look and say, ‘We’re not very good there.’”
SPRING AWARDS: Receiver Ahmad Paige and tight end Luke Stocker received the Harvey Robinson Award, signifying the most improved offensive players in spring practice. Ayers and Willingham split the Andy Spiva Award, given to the most improved defensive player during the spring.