QB, defensive questions before camp


star staff


  KNOXVILLE--Two years ago, some people expected a Leak to be Tennessee's starting quarterback coming into the 2004 season.
  But it wasn't C.J.
  The fifth-year senior is hoping to prove the doubters wrong after a solid spring and retain the Volunteers' starting quarterback job in a fall camp that could see five people threatening for the position.
  The upcoming camp and season outlook was presented Saturday at Neyland Stadium during the team's annual Media Day.
  Aside from the quarterback position, there are several question marks that need to be addressed in the Tennessee locker room before its Labor Day weekend Sunday opener at home against UNLV on Sept. 5.
  "The kids have reported in good shape," said Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer. "They've worked very hard getting themselves ready. There is real good potential on this team. There are obviously areas we are concerned about. One of them is at defensive tackle."
  The defensive position took a hit when Richlands, Va., native and projected starter Matt McGlothlin was suspended for a year by the team.
  It was a depth hit for the Vols lineup, which may be forced to move someone in from the end position.
  "When you have problems to solve, you have 29 days to find somebody that's ready to play," said Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis. "When we line up against UNLV, we'll have four guys (on the line) that can win games in the SEC. We're going to be ready to play. I'm not going to say who it's going to be, but we will be competitive."
  Aside from the tackle slot, the defensive secondary is fairly weak aside from returning left cornerbacks Jason Allen and Robert Boulware.
  Two sophomores and freshmen are expected to battle for a starting job, including Volunteer track standout Jonathan Wade, who was injured at the receiver position last year.
  Chavis and company are pleased with the progress of their ends and returning linebackers, senior Kevin Burnett and juniors Jason Mitchell and Kevin Simon, who led the team in tackles last season.
  "The lack of depth (at positions) is a concern (for the defense), but these guys that played last year are coming back ready," said the former De La Salle, Calif., standout Simon. "You just want some guys that can step up."
  Offensively, there is a heated battle aside from the signal calling slot.
  Although rising senior Cedric Houston led the team in rushing last season, there are four guys who Fulmer believe can be successful at the position.
  Two other seniors, the powerful Jabari Davis and the speedy Corey Larkins, have shown success in the past, while junior Gerald Riggs Jr. and sophomore David Yancey each turned heads during the spring drills.
  "We don't have a starting tailback. We've got potential," said Fulmer. "Houston with a big year could end up being Tennessee's all-time leading rusher. You don't think of him in that category because he hasn't been able to stay healthy."
  "We need a back who is going to turn a four-yard run into a 14-yard run in the mode of Travis Stevens, Travis Henry and Jamal Lewis, Jay Graham or Charlie Garner."
  "We're looking for more excitement from the position, from Cedric, Gerald Riggs, Jabari Davis, Corey Larkins and David Yancey, who had the big spring," he said. "That's a very competitive situation."
  On the line, senior captain Michael Munoz is hoping to pave his way to the NFL with a successful final reign on the line in Knoxville.
  He will be joined by some new faces on the line, but hopes to lead the trench attack with senior center Jason Respert.
  "I'm just excited to get practice started," Munoz said. "It's crazy that I'm a senior this year. I just want to take a hold of the season and have no regrets when it's over."
  The line will play a big role in opening holes for the Volunteer backs. Essentially, that could relieve the pressure of the quarterback battle.
  "We've got to be confident in gaining yards on the ground," he said. "We have some young guys with great talent. But the more we establish that run with our quarterback situation, the more pressure we can take off of them."
  Another senior, Tony Brown, leads the mostly young receiving corps.
  Fulmer listed six players aside from Brown, Derrick Tinsley, Chris Hannon, Jayson Swain, Robert Meachem, C.J. Fayton and Bill Grimes, as guys he expects a lot out of this fall.
  "A lot of guys turned it on this summer," said Brown of the off-season workouts. "We thought about the games we lost and the difficult situations we could face this season. It made us dig down to see how deep we can go. We're a much better team now."
  Of course, the highlight of media day was the quarterbacks.
  Incoming freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer made their debuts in front of the media. Both are expected to challenge Leak for the starting position, along with Rick Clausen, brother of former starter Casey, Jim Bob Cooter and Bo Hardegree.
  "Like Al Wilson told me going into the 1998 season, whoever the quarterback is, we're not going to let him fail," Fulmer said. "I want our team to take that challenge, rally and play the best they can to help us through the situation. I do think there's some potential there."
  Fulmer noted Leak's progress during spring practice, and accommodated the talk of Ainge and Schaeffer, who he said will be given an opportunity off the bat.
  "We're going to look at all of them. As of today, C.J. Leak will start. Clausen is a guy that brings some things to the field from a maturity standpoint," adding that Clausen could throw better.
  Leak was the most calm of the crew, talking like a confident starter.
  "We've got a lot of veteran leadership and guys who can play. That makes it a lot easier on us," the former Wake Forrest Demon Deacon said. "It's going to take us a couple of days to gel together, but we want to go out there and be the best offense in college football."
  Leak, still, must battle with the others. According to Clausen, Fulmer has told the signal callers that someone must clearly take it.
  "Somebody's going to win the job. Coach Fulmer's made that clear to us," Rick said. "He's waiting for someone to outright win it."