Head Coach Phillip Fulmer was happy to hear Antwan Stewart was cleared medically for practice after missing all of last season because of a knee injury.
“He’s played a little bit more than they (Roshaun Fellows and Jon Hefney) have,” Fulmer said. “He has a knack about getting his hands on balls and being in the right places. He’s very intent on trying to do well.”
However, some of the wind was taken out of the team’s sails due to some bad news regarding Roshaun Fellows.
“Roshaun unfortunately we’re evaluating and he may need to have knee surgery to clean up a little bit of a tear,” Fulmer said. “We don’t know for sure yet if we’re going to have him go to corner yet or not.”
Inky Johnson is also solidly in the mix in the secondary. Johnson ran some routes as a receiver in order to determine if he might be able to make some contributions on offense, too.
Conversely, receiver Josh Briscoe has taken some snaps as a cornerback and at safety.
The quarterback saga is just as intriguing as it was a year ago. However, to one experienced onlooker, Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer look a little more polished than they did last fall. Former UNLV head coach John Robinson is in Knoxville as part of a coaching clinic. Fulmer indicated that Robinson liked what he saw from the duo.
“Freshmen quarterbacks are hard to manage,” Fulmer said. “Randy Sanders did as good a job with that last year as anybody could imagine. He (Robinson) was commenting on how smoother and how much more they understand right now than they did in the fall when they played against UNLV.”
Although Ainge and Schaeffer didn’t get to finish the season the way they started it, Fulmer thinks their respective injuries might have actually helped them.
“I think for those two freshmen the best thing that could have happened for them was seeing Rick Clausen out there running the offense efficiently and laying it off and ending up with as many positive plays as they had,” Fulmer said.”
With three good quarterbacks to choose from, it’s up to Fulmer to decide which one will be named the eventual starter for the 2005 campaign.
“We’re going to let it run through the spring and see what will be the best thing for us,” Fulmer said. “I’d like to see us come out with a guy that’s going to be the guy through the summer and that’s up to them if they can get it done well enough. I think leadership and chemistry is so important to this football team.
“Everybody focuses on the quarterback because it’s such a highlighted position, but it’s probably the same at two or three other positions. We could have a couple of guys competing for the starting position and all of them will play. I would like to have a guy that’s distinguished himself so much that he’s the obvious choice. If it’s not obvious we’ll let them compete through the fall.”
A couple of other players hope to be competing for playing time once the season rolls around. Oddly enough, they are facing off against one another during the spring.Offensive tackle Eric Young and defensive end Robert Ayers are both hoping to have breakout years.
“He (Young) has had a lot of practice snaps and he understands what we’re trying to do better,” Fulmer said. “He needs the reps and he needs the looks. He played really well in that scrimmage last Tuesday except for the three plays that he busted. But three plays at any position is enough to get you beat in a close football game. It’s nothing to do with anything physical. He’s plenty physical.”
Ayers, on the other hand, is coming back from an injury that knocked him out for last season.
“He had that shoulder surgery so his strength level isn’t where it needs to be,” said Fulmer. “He’s never played with his hand down on the ground before. He’s never been challenged by 300-plus-pound guys before. He’s got to learn the techniques of staying low and keeping his pads down and playing with his hands…and using his speed which he has considerable ability. He’s a neophyte right now of where he’ll be one day.”
Finally, Fulmer said the team voted for captains on Thursday. He said he would review the ballots and could announce the 2005 captains as early as Friday.
2005 signee Ricardo Kemp of Warren, Ark. was at practice, too. Kemp is from the same city that produced Fellows and Bret Smith.
The Vols will practice again on Friday before Saturday’s scrimmage.