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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Big Orange Cliffhanger

It's spring time and in the land of television, series are building up for their final run of new episodes all complete with twists, turns, revelations and, in some cases, season ending cliffhangers.

If you're a UT football fan, you can understand that feeling of waiting, without knowing what's going to happen next right now. We've got a cliffhanger of sorts to be sorted out before the big kick-off in September. But instead of whether or not our heroes will survive to live another day, the question weighing on a lot of fans minds is--who is going to be the starting quarterback next year?

I know that the coaching staff had hoped to have a better idea of who would start--or better yet that someone would step it up in spring practice. But that honestly hasn't happened. And based on what I saw in the orange and white game on Saturday, it's not something that will necessarily resolve itself anytime soon.

Sort of like when Star Trek: The Next Generation ended season three on a cliffhanger and the writers had no idea where it was all going to work out, the coaching staff of UT has ended the spring with no clear idea of the direction we're headed in at quarterback.

Honestly, the best of the bunch was Jim Bob Cooter. First of all, that just SOUNDS like a Tennessee quarterback name. Nothing against Peyton Manning here (who is probably the most personable and may be the greatest QB we've ever had and was the best embodiment of all things good for Tennessee football), but the name Jim Bob just sounds like a guy who is proud to be playing for Tennessee. And what he did on the field was fairly impressive. He led the team to a touchdown and looked like he had a fairly good idea of just what he was doing. Now I don't know if they had simplified the defense for him a bit or were calling set plays to make him look better, but honestly, the man just looked like a quarterback. He had the confidence to him that you need and want in the position. He looked like a leader.

Unlike the other two quarterbacks we have now. I'm not saying they're bad. I'm just saying they don't instill the same confidence that we can win and win right away with them at the helm. And by win right away, I mean, beat Florida in Neyland on Sept. 18. We haven't had a victory against them on our home turf since 98 and while I enjoy winning at the Swamp, I really want to take it to them on our home turf. (Oh yeah..and we should have won in 2000, but that's about 50 other blog entries for another time!)

C.J. Leak looked impressive at times, esp. when it came to being a mobile QB. In the era in which Michael Vick has redefined the QB identity (really, the way was paved by Steve McNair, but Vick has taken it to a whole new level), a mobile QB is just part of the package. For all his arm strength, Casey Clausen was not a mobile QB. And we didn't expect him to be. But Leak still looked flumoxed when the defense threw different looks at him. He doesn't quite have the instinct to read and react to them that he should. And I don't think we can ever forget how he looked against Georgia two years ago. I can't really hold that against him (OK, I can but what's the point), but I think a lot of fans remember that deer in headlights look he had. Honestly, as bad as that game was, it wasn't nearly as bad as the team giving up last year at home and letting Georgia stomp us on our home turf.

Is Leak the answer?

If he is, I'm not sure we're asking the right questions.

On the other hand, Rick Clausen ain't too hot either. As I told some friends who went to the game with me, "It really looks like overthrowing recievers runs in the Clausen family." Now, I know that all great QBs get nervous and have those moments early in the game where butterflies take over. Heck, Brett Favre has done it in countless playoff games that I've watched. But the thing with Brett Favre was he settled down and did what it took to put the team into the game. Casey Clausen seemed to run hot and cold at times and it seemed to take a long time for the nerves to calm down. And I wonder if his younger brother is the same. Again, he looked good at times and he looked just solidly OK at times.

I do get the impression the coaching staff are a bit on his side, since he got a few more chances to win over the orange and white crowd. He did get a chance to try and lead his squad to a win with some last second heroics. And while he almost did, I'm not sure that's enough to really get me over on his side.

So, we have a cliffhanger. And since this is the Internet, where SPOILERS abound and wacky predictions about the future are part of the norm, I will make my own bold prediction.

I think that C.J. Leak will start the season. Fulmer seems to be leaning that way. Also, the SEC and CBS want the brothers Leak to play each other September 18th on national TV. Better storyline that way and it gives all of us something to debate until the game instead of just the usual "Are we gonna beat Florida?" discussion (which is fun on Monday, but by Friday...well, it's getting thin). However, I see one of the freshman QBs coming in and getting the same change that Peyton and Casey did--they will get inserted into the lineup at some point and possibly be the savior of our season. My only real question is this--will it be on the road against UGA or at home against Alabama?

Time will tell, I suppose.

Until then, all I see are the words "To Be Continued" and all the rest of the Vol nation left hanging on the edge of our seats.

Next up: Looking at the rest of the team (or we've got some potentially great weapons...are we going to use them?)

posted by Michael Hickerson at 4/20/2004 01:53:00 PM | |
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