Steve Spurrier, the coach whom Volunteer Nation loved to hate, has
gone to the NFL, and Tennessee has a solid core of veterans that
will be buttressed by a couple of top recruiting classes, but the
sense in Knoxville is more of urgency than confidence. An
in-house investigation into improper benefits allegedly received
by former Vol Tee Martin has brought the specter of future
probation. And looking back to the recent past is no fun either.
One week after beating archrival Florida 34-32 to win the SEC
East and climb to No. 2 in the polls last season, Tennessee
unraveled in the fourth quarter of the conference championship
game and lost to LSU 31-20. Goodbye, Rose Bowl. "We had the
national championship game in our hands," says junior cornerback
Jabari Greer, "and we looked past LSU."
Senior linebacker Eddie Moore says he has watched the LSU tape
hundreds of times. His stomach no longer flips at the sight of
the loss, but he wants to hold on to some of the feeling of
discomfort it gives him. "We've got to work two or three times
harder and keep that game in mind," he says. Moore is typical of
this year's defenders: He's fast, relatively slight (6 feet, 220
pounds) and, having played with departed linemen Albert
Haynesworth, John Henderson and Will Overstreet--all of whom went
in the first three rounds of the NFL draft--unheralded. Moore is
the only returning player in the front seven who started every
game last season, which he did despite playing all year with a
separated left shoulder (now healed). "Eddie leads by example,"
Greer says. "He's a hard-nosed guy. He doesn't get in your face
unless he has to."
Gone are all four defensive line starters, who made 34 tackles
for loss, 14 of them sacks, last season. Their replacements,
seniors Omari Hand and Constantin Ritzmann at the ends and
seniors Rashad Moore (no relation to Eddie) and Eddie Kendrick at
the tackle spots, average nine fewer pounds per man. However, all
four have played extensively.
Coach Phillip Fulmer signed players of the year from Alabama,
Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, but it's unlikely any of them
will match the impact that wide receiver Kelley Washington had as
a freshman last season, when the refugee from minor league
baseball caught 64 passes for 1,010 yards and five touchdowns. If
only the Vols could get him to come out of his shell. "I
definitely feel I'm the best receiver in the nation," says
Washington, who'll turn 23 on Aug. 21. "Last year was just a
sample. I'm out to show I'm destined for great things." At 6'4",
225 pounds, Washington relied on raw talent last season. Now he's
looking to put his experience to work. "I'm counting my steps now
instead of just running my routes," he says. "I'm reading
defenses and changing routes on the run."
Washington will face a lot of double coverage until a second
receiving threat can be established. The candidates range from
senior Leonard Scott, a former NCAA sprint champion, to freshman
Jonathan Wade. "He's real quick off the ball," says junior
quarterback Casey Clausen, referring to Wade. "He's fast and has
real good hands. He's catching on pretty quick."
Halfway through his college career, Clausen has already started
20 games. He feels confident in his knowledge of the offense, but
when he needs a refresher he goes back to the game tapes from
Tennessee's 1997 season. Ole Miss's Eli Manning isn't the only
SEC quarterback who's getting tips from Peyton. Clausen will look
at the defense and try to guess where Peyton will throw the ball.
He says he guesses right about 80% of the time. "His senior year
is when he was at his best," Clausen says. "He got to a point
where he knew what to do and knew just as well what the defense
would do." Some of Clausen's studies have a more specific
purpose, however. The Southern Mississippi defense that Peyton
riddled for 399 yards and four touchdowns in '97 was coached by
John Thompson, the new defensive coordinator at Florida.
The game with the Gators, usually the highlight of the Vols'
schedule, may be overshadowed this year by a visit from defending
national champion Miami on Nov. 9. "It's hard not to think about
it," Greer says of the matchup with the Hurricanes. He should be
careful. If the Volunteers learned one thing from last season,
it's not to look too far ahead. --Ivan Maisel
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE FOLLOW THE LEADER Clausen has already started 20 games for the Volunteers but still learns by studying video of Peyton Manning.
2001 RECORD: 11-2 (7-1, 1st in SEC East)
FINAL RANKING: No. 4 AP, No. 4 coaches' poll
Sacks by the Volunteers last season, tops in the SEC. It was the
12th consecutive season in which Tennessee had 30 or more.
FIVE KEY RETURNEES
QB Casey Clausen [Jr.]
Fifth in I-A with 17 wins as a starter
WR Kelley Washington [Soph.]
64 catches, 1,010 yards last year
LT Michael Munoz [Soph.]
Knee surgery sidelined him in '01
LB Eddie Moore [Sr.]
Team-high 81 tackles, seven for loss
CB Jabari Greer [Jr.]
Broke up a team-best 12 passes
An opposing coach's view
A new D line will have a big say in the Vols' success
"I don't think Casey Clausen has a great arm, but he's a lot
more experienced now and has a steady hand.... Wideout Kelley
Washington is a big, physical player, as good a receiver as
there has been in this league in a long time.... They'll be good
on the offensive line, but losing their three best guys on the
defensive front--Albert Haynesworth, John Henderson and Will
Overstreet--will hurt them. On the end, Constantin Ritzmann is a
finesse guy; at tackle, Rashad Moore is a hole-plugger and Ed
Kendrick moves around blockers rather than through them.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis would rather have guys up
front who are more physical.... Eddie Moore is an intuitive
linebacker. He's not real big, but he runs well.... Freshman
corner Jason Allen is a heck of a prospect."
Aug. 31 WYOMING*
Sept. 7 MIDDLE TENN. STATE
Oct. 5 ARKANSAS
12 at Georgia
Nov. 2 at South Carolina
16 at Mississippi State
23 at Vanderbilt