I can't," Tee Martin says. "I can't be Peyton." Martin,
Tennessee's new quarterback, says it so simply and sweetly that
it's apparent he hasn't stayed up nights wondering if he is the
next Manning. The funny thing is, Martin, a junior, chose
Tennessee over Auburn in 1996 to steer clear of comparisons. One
of his closest friends back in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.,
Dameyune Craig, played quarterback at Auburn. "I didn't want
anyone to say, 'He's just like Dameyune,'" Martin says.
They won't say he's just like Manning, of course, although coach
Phillip Fulmer sees enough similarities that he says the only
difference is that Martin didn't grow up with money. "Leadership,
ability to communicate with players," says Fulmer, rattling off
Martin's Manning-like strengths. "He has a lot of pride but not
When Manning announced in March 1997 that he would return for
his senior season, Martin happily slid back into the role of
heir apparent. "I knew what to do," he says. "That year gave me
a chance to sit back and watch. Peyton was so far ahead of the
game on the college level. He dropped back and knew what was
going to happen. He knew where to go. I worked on that a whole
lot." Asked what he does well, Martin says, "I drop back well. I
think that I think well. I stay poised. I don't let the last
play affect the next play."
Martin played little last season (four games, 12 passes, 10 of
them in the opener), which is curious given the number of games
Tennessee won easily. The ruptured bursa sac in Manning's right
knee that nearly knocked him out of the Orange Bowl gave Martin
the invaluable experience of working with the first team
throughout the two weeks of bowl practice. Still, Martin has
taken so few game snaps that in April, Fulmer set aside his
spring-game rule that quarterbacks may not be hit. "He handled a
lot of big hits," says Fulmer, who with Tom Osborne's
retirement, became the Division I-A coach with the highest
winning percentage (54-11, .831). "I like how he bounced up and
got back to the huddle."
If anyone needs proof that Martin is no Manning, consider this:
The Volunteers will dust off the option series in their playbook
to take advantage of Martin's speed. "We've got the line, the
backs and the quarterback to run it," says Martin, who spent
part of the summer watching videotapes of Donovan McNabb, the
stellar option quarterback at Syracuse.
Four of Tennessee's five starting linemen return, as does the
best pair of running backs in the SEC, sophomore tailback Jamal
Lewis and senior fullback Shawn Bryson. Fulmer brought the
6-foot, 220-pound Lewis along slowly last season, not starting
him until the fifth game. That looked overly cautious when, in
his first start, Lewis ran for 232 yards against Georgia. He
finished with 1,364 rushing yards, the second-highest total in
school history. Odds are he will improve upon his seven rushing
touchdowns of a year ago.
Defensively, the Vols will be hard-pressed to come remotely close
to their performance of last year, when opponents averaged only
93.3 yards rushing per game. With its bewildering option,
Syracuse, whom Tennessee visits on Sept. 5, may be the worst
opponent for a young defense to open with--except Florida, whom
the Vols play two weeks later.
Tennessee has a good foundation on which to build in linebackers
Al Wilson and Raynoch Thompson. Wilson, a senior, made 83
tackles at outside linebacker last season, four short of the
team lead, despite missing a game with a bad ankle. He'll move
inside to replace Leonard Little, who made a switch from
defensive end to middle linebacker look easy last fall. Little
and end Jonathan Brown, both of whom were third-round NFL
draftees last spring, had 22 of Tennessee's 47 sacks. Whether
the Vols can replicate that kind of pressure could be crucial to
Keep in mind that it's the defense that causes Fulmer to say,
"This team definitely has a long way to go." He's not worried
about the special teams, with kicker Jeff Hall back after having
made 16 of 22 field goals last season, including 10 of his last
12. The offense has all the tools to be very good, if measured
by normal standards. The question that hangs in the air (no, not
that question; after five years of humiliation, not even the
loudest braggart in orange overalls honestly believes Tennessee
will beat Florida this season) is whether a merely good offense
will be acceptable to fans as besotted with Manning's memory as
they were with the player himself.
Last season, Fulmer says, "We had a passer who passed for 3,000
yards, a rusher who went over 1,000 yards and a receiver [the
departed Marcus Nash] who went over 1,000 yards. The fans expect
you to win. That's not going to change. They'll be patient to a
Right up until, say, the second quarter of the Florida game.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER HANDYMAN Jeremaine Copeland, Tennessee's leading returning receiver, will be a key to young Martin's fortunes.
COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY Lewis [Jamal Lewis]
1997 record: 11-2 (7-1, 1st in SEC East)
Final ranking: No. 7 AP, No. 8 coaches' poll
Rushing Passing Total
1997 Averages Scoring Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 34.3 151.1 331.8 482.8
DEFENSE 20.3 93.3 241.5 334.8
Coach: Phillip Fulmer
Seventh year at Tennessee (54-11); career Division I-A record:
WR Peerless Price Sr. 48 catches, 698 yds., 6 TDs
LT Chad Clifton Jr. 6'6", 315; started 11 games
LG Spencer Riley Jr. 17 starts in two seasons
C Diron Robinson[*] Sr. Slides over from backup RG
RG Mercedes Hamilton Sr. Parade All-America at DE in '92
RT Cosey Coleman So. Started 5 games as a freshman
TE Eric Diogu Jr. 1 career rec.
WR Jeremaine Copeland Sr. 58 rec., 732 yds., 9 TDs
QB Tee Martin[*] Jr. 87 passing yds., 1 TD, 1 int.
RB Jamal Lewis So. 1,364 rush yds., 5.9 avg., 7 TDs
FB Shawn Bryson Sr. 146 rush yds., 307 yds. rec.
K Jeff Hall Sr. 141 PATs: third in SEC history
LE Shaun Ellis[*] Jr. Recovering from car crash
LT Darwin Walker[*] Jr. Bench-presses 520 lbs.
RT Ron Green[*] Sr. 6 tackles in SEC title game
RE Corey Terry Sr. 82 career tackles
OLB Eric Westmoreland[*]So. Hurt for all but two games
MLB Al Wilson Sr. Leading returning tackler
OLB Raynoch Thompson Jr. 1 int., 3 forced fumbles
CB Dwayne Goodrich Jr. 6 int. in two seasons
SS Fred White[*] Jr. 43 tackles
FS Deon Grant[*] So. Must replace Cory Gaines
CB Steve Johnson[*] Sr. four seasons, 1 int.
P David Leaverton[*] So. 8 punts, 36.4 avg.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from 1997 season.
Jamal Lewis may overshadow senior fullback Shawn Bryson, but
Bryson is a big reason that Lewis casts any shadow at all. The
6'1", 220-pound Bryson can run (4.2 yards per carry in '97),
catch (29 receptions for 307 yards last season) and open holes
for Lewis (ask any SEC linebacker). Fullbacks get overshadowed
at All-America time but not at NFL draft time.... Junior
cornerback Dwayne Goodrich has proved that he knows where to
find the ball. In the last two seasons he has recovered six
fumbles, only two short of the school career record. He also has
intercepted six passes in his career, two of which he returned
for touchdowns.... Wide receiver Peerless Price broke his ankle
in the 1997 spring game yet recuperated well enough to catch 48
passes in 12 games last season. Now that he's back at full
speed, Price should replace Marcus Nash, a first-round draft
pick of the Denver Broncos, as the Vols' go-to receiver.
Schedule strength: 23rd of 112
Sept. 5 at Syracuse Tee Martin debuts in the bedlam of the
Carrier Dome. At least he'll face an Orangemen defense that is
Sept. 19 vs. Florida The Gators have beaten the Vols five
straight times and have psyched them out the way Alabama used
to. (It took nine years for Tennessee to turn that one around.)
Oct. 3 at Auburn Once one of the SEC's top rivalries, then a
casualty of the league's expansion to 12 teams, this matchup
resumes after a six-year regular-season hiatus.
The X Factor
More like the Tee factor. With so many weapons at his disposal,
Martin doesn't have to start out winning games, just keep from
losing them. How fast can he turn two years of watching into
The Bottom Line
The offense will score points, but the SEC East is no place for a
young secondary. Tennessee's had better grow up quick.