Well, that was refreshing. The early morning rain had cleared the air. The sun was warm and the breeze was cool.
And like the local Bradford Pears and dogwoods awaking from a cold, desolate winter to push out new growth, the Tennessee Volunteer offense was showing signs of life.
Robert Meachem had a banner day, catching a pair of touchdown passes, one of which went for 70 yards. Talk about a sight for sore eyes. Bret Smith was, as is his nature, quietly consistent with seven catches for 47 yards and one touchdown. And lo and behold, the tight ends were catching passes, 10 of them to be exact.
Erik Ainge solidified his position as starting quarterback, completing 14 of 22 passes for a total of 210 yards and two touchdowns. Crompton and Hardegree did fine, together completing 24 of 29 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown. Hardegree did throw one interception.
The emphasis on tempo was evident, as Ainge got his team in and out of the huddle quickly. Crompton, on the other hand, got a Jumbotron tongue-lashing from coach Cutcliffe after calling his third timeout early in the first half. Good news, all of it. Still unanswered, however, is Ainge’s decision-making under duress. That really can’t be tested in a green jersey, and he did in fact give up two (I think) sacks due to not getting rid of the ball quick enough.
The defense had its moments as well. Linebackers Rico McCoy and James Turner each had seven tackles.
Uruk-Hai look-alike Jonathan Wade (that’s a compliment; I think it looks cool) had one interception,
and Robert Ayers and Demonte’ Bolden recovered one fumble a piece.
Fulmer on the quarterbacks:
David Cutcliffe has been great for all of those guys. We were in and out of the huddle, especially early. I thought Erik had a really good game except for the two sacks. I’ve been really impressed with Jonathan Crompton, considering he hasn’t played any football since high school. And Bo has had a really good spring.
Fulmer on the receivers:
The receivers were better out there because they are blocking their rears off and catching it more consistently. They are trying to do more things with the football after they catch it.
Fulmer on the offense in general:
If you don’t drop balls, have turnovers and have silly sacks, you have a chance to be successful because we have enough talent to break a tackle or make a play in the passing game that’s going to give us some points. That’s what we did not do offensively last year.
Fulmer on the defense:
We had a really good spring. We closed ground in some areas. We can’t possibly be as experience as we were last year in the linebacker corps but those guys are just really doing well. They are playing with great attitude.
Justin [Harrell] has played well all spring and Matt McGlothlin has pushed himself into position where we’re going to be counting on him. His play since the spring break has been as consistent as anybody on our football team. And the secondary has been a strength all spring.
Fulmer on spring practice overall:
You could describe the spring as a success for probably one reason and that’s that our kids learned how to work again as hard as they are supposed to. If we will stay that course and make the improvements at the positions where we need to improve, we’ll get there.
We’ve just finished phase two of what we’re trying to get done. I think we’ve made some strides. Sometimes before you really appreciate the peaks — and we’ve been on a lot of peaks — you’ve got to go into the valleys. Basically, that’s how I’ve described it to our football team this year. We’re doing everything we can to fight and scratch and take each little step we can to get ourselves back where want to be and that’s at the peak.
The kids have had a good attitude but our summer program will be one of the deciding factors on what kind of football team we will have. We actually moved spring practice ahead by two weeks to give us a longer summer cycle. I’ve seen young people change their bodies during the summer, particularly the young guys and we’re going to be counting on a lot of young guys next season.
My own slideshow is coming soon. If I don’t mow the lawn today, I’m going to need a bush-hog.
UTSports.com has video highlights and audio interviews with coach Fulmer.
For those lucky or early enough to get into Thompson-Boling Arena for Fan Day, it apparently looked like this. I wouldn’t know, because I was number 12,000 or so in line waiting to go through the single door in Thompson-Boling they had opened for the occasion.