Orange dominates spring scrimmage

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   KNOXVILLE--After their loss to Maryland in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl last December, the University of Tennessee Volunteers could do nothing but improve going into 2003 spring practice.
   With the prominence of spring practice, the Vols made quick adjustments during the off-season and showed some promise for the upcoming season Saturday during the Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium.
   Backed behind a 293-yard passing performance from Casey Clausen and a solid rushing outing from the lettermen group, the Orange squad whipped up on the White group in a 69-7 rout.
   "I think everybody was disappointed in the bowl game and that point in the season, overall," said Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer. "That wasn't the standard we've set here in the past. We've met the challenges pretty good this spring and the group is on a great track."
   "I don't have a crystal ball on how we're going to do," he said. "We have a tough schedule in front of us with some real graduation losses to overcome. We don't have any superstars, but the guys are working hard."
   A new face emerged for the Volunteers in senior wide receiver and safety Mark Jones. Jones turned some heads with four grabs for 152 yards and two scores all in the first half.
   "Obviously, we ran a lot of plays," Fulmer said. "It was good to see Mark Jones make some. He's made those most of the spring, that's been good to see.
   "Casey played exceptionally well; our fullbacks and tailbacks looked well. The game put the defense in a disadvantage, but it will be a good film to study."
   Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs both tallied over 100 yards of rushing in the outing. Houston rushed for two scores with 12 carries on his injured ankle.
   "I think we did what we wanted to do," Houston said. "I know the running backs did. We didn't have any turnovers and just went out there and ran hard and blocked well."
   "I tried to make it look like it didn't bother me," he said. "It hurt a little bit when I was cutting. I played more than I expected to."
   The Volunteer secondary looked good in spots with three interceptions in the game. Sophomore Jason Allen and senior transfer Gibril Wilson did good things on the afternoon and should head up the squad this fall.
   "That's what we wanted to do," said Wilson. "We knew that we had a good showing and got a couple of picks and did what we were supposed to. This is Tennessee and we've got to build on it."
   Said Allen: "This spring we had a bunch of young guys step up and a bunch of older guys who let us. Going into the fall, I feel like we should do a good job."
   Tennessee sophomore quarterback James Banks played some receiver for both sides during the game. He scored in the fourth quarter from a Clausen pass.
   Of the back-up quarterbacks, Banks was more impressive than C.J. Leak on foot, while both showed some poise and use of the run.
   A fumble on a kickoff allowed Sullivan North's Kevin Shipley to gain a quick nine-yard score. Shipley, who plays on the Volunteer JV squad, gave the Orange a 55-7 lead in the contest showing some local flavor.
   Clausen was pleased with the effort shown from his teammates. Leading the squad into 2003, the senior quarterback feels there will be some good changes in the Volunteer system.
   "The biggest thing is us and not worrying about anybody else," said Clausen. "We're just trying to get ourselves together as a team and giver ourselves a chance to get better. We can't worry about last year, it was last year.
   "The biggest thing starting a new season whether or not you had a good season or a bad season," he said. "You've got to get that off your mind. Our focus now is everyone improving and getting stronger in the weight room."
   Defensively Ovince Saint Preux and Jason Mitchell led the afternoon with 10 and nine tackles, respectively.
   Tennessee fans in attendance were given a special treat during halftime as former head coach Johnny Majors was honored with the Neyland Award.
   With the improvements of spring behind them, the Volunteers must look ahead to the 2003 season. If they look as good as they did on Saturday, it might be a promising season for Big Orange fans.
   Of course a big key to that will be the continuing rise of players like Mark Jones.
   Said Fulmer: "Mark's had a great attitude and he's a good example of our team's attitude of being hungry and humble. Last year, that 8-4 could've been 4-8 if there hadn't been some guys busting their hump. If we'd won the bowl game and been 9-4, everybody would've said what a great job we did over the injuries."
   "The disappointment of the game that we all had, it gave us some adversity internally to overcome," he said. "I've been really proud of the seniors and juniors on this team and the direction they have this team going. We've build on the disappointments I hope."
   The Volunteers open a tough 2003 schedule with back-to-back home stands against Fresno State and Marshall beginning on August 30.