April 7, 2006

Vols offense still has long way to go

Those waiting to see what David Cutcliffe's return will bring to Tennessee will have to wait a little longer.

During the Volunteers' spring game Saturday, all eyes will be on the offense, which finished the season ranked 102nd in the country in scoring during a 5-6 season.

But between Cutcliffe's decision to leave out most of his regular-season offense and injuries to key starters, Volunteers fans will have to wait until Sept. 2 when Tennessee plays California for a complete picture of the offense.

Spring aside, the hope for September is that Tennessee will be able to revisit the success of Cutcliffe days of the 1990s.

In November, Coach Phil Fulmer replaced Randy Sanders with Cutcliffe, who was the Volunteers' offensive coordinator during the Peyton Manning years and the 1998 national championship season.

In his first spring practice in Knoxville since 1998, Cutcliffe has watched the offense struggle.

In the Volunteers' last scrimmage before the spring game, neither the first-team nor the second-team offense moved the ball into the end zone.

"Nothing is ever as bad as it seems and nothing is ever as good," Cutcliffe told VolQuest.com "It depends on what you are trying to get out of a scrimmage. I did not like the 1998 preseason scrimmages. Spring is about players and not plays."

And several of those players on offense have been absent.

Starting tailback Arian Foster has missed all of spring practice while recovering from knee surgery. Two other running backs, LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty, have missed time this spring due to injury.

Jayson Swain, the second-leading receiver last season, will miss the spring game after having exploratory knee surgery. Left tackle Arron Sears will also miss the game due to injury.

The Volunteers will at least go into fall with the quarterback position settled. Junior Erik Ainge is on top of the depth chart after competing with redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton.

"Erik Ainge right now is clearly our No. 1 guy," Cutcliffe said. "He's been very comfortable with what we're doing. We've made changes, a lot of mental changes and a lot of teaching that had to be done."

Rivals.com staff writer David Fox will be at the Vols spring game on Saturday. For more coverage of Tennessee Spring Practice, check out VolQuest.com.


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