UT wideouts wait for time to shine
Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 3:27 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s wide receivers are trying to be patient.
A unit that piled up yards easily last season now must fight for every yard as a result of the Vols’ now anemic passing offense.
“We know our time is going to come,” said Josh Briscoe, who added the receiving corps was a little frustrated with the drop in production.
“The defense is playing well, but there’s going to be a time when we’re going to have to lean on the offense, and we’re just going to continue to go out and practice and just battle every day,” the senior said.
The Vols (1-3) averaged 262.5 yards passing per game under the leadership of Erik Ainge in 2007.
This season, with Jonathan Crompton at the helm of the offense, they’ve gained an average of only 175 yards per game.
Last year’s top receiver, Lucas Taylor, has seen his average drop from 76.9 yards per game last season to 49.8 this year.
Briscoe has dropped from 39.8 yards to 20.5 and Austin Rogers has dropped from 44.6 yards to 7.5.
It’s enough of a concern that coach Phillip Fulmer has Crompton competing with backup Nick Stephens for the starting role against Northern Illinois (2-2) on Saturday.
Crompton has completed 64-of-123 passes for 658 yards and thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions in four games this season.
In Tennessee’s 14-12 loss to Auburn on Saturday, he went 8-for-23 for 67 yards, though for the first time he threw no interceptions.
The eight completions were a team low since Tennessee went 8-for-20 in a loss to Auburn in the 2004 Southeastern Conference championship.
The situation has become so negative for Crompton that he was booed after his performance in UT’s 30-6 loss against Florida at Neyland Stadium.
The Vols had every chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter after starting three drives inside Tigers territory. Crompton went 1-for-3 in each of those drives and Tennessee failed to get a first down, forcing the Vols to punt.
With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Crompton was 0-for-6.
“It’s not always the quarterback. Sometimes it could be a protection, it could be a route, it could be a good defensive play. But we’ve had enough inconsistency that we have to see what our options are as we go into this week,” Fulmer said.
When asked specifically about the receivers’ performances, Fulmer said he’s felt there have been a few occasions where they made mistakes that resulted in an incompletion but for the most part he felt they’ve been “OK.”
Gerald Jones is the only receiver whose game average has improved — he’s gone from averaging 12.3 yards receiving last season to 33.2 yards — after he earned a starting job this season.
Jones said he’s felt good about how he and his fellow receivers are performing but still thought there was room for improvement.
“One thing I wish for myself and for the rest of us: if we can get that one or two plays downfield that most schools do or we can break that one tackle just to free us loose,” he said. “It’ll come, don’t rush it, but it needs to come sooner or later.”
Jones said it’s only fair for the quarterbacks to have to compete for the starting position if the passing game isn’t productive enough.
It’s the same thing receivers, running backs or any other player has to go through if they’re not performing sufficiently, he said.
Jones, himself, has seen limited time under center in a formation known as the G-gun.
Crompton and Stephens are splitting time practicing with the first team offense this week, though the receivers always practice taking passes from both quarterbacks.
Crompton only spoke vaguely about his struggles after Sunday night’s practice but said the competition with Stephens would bring out the best in his play.
“I have every confidence in the world in myself that I’m going to be fine and I’m still going to be the guy,” Crompton said.
Stephens said he’s trying to improve each day in practice and doesn’t find the competition between him and Crompton to be awkward.
“I’m just going to go out there and do what I do and try to help the team and go out every day and just work as hard as I can,” he said.
Jones said he thinks Stephens, who is 1-for-2 this season with a 42-yard pass to Brandon Warren late against UAB, recognizes this is his chance to rise to the top.
And regardless of who wins the starting job this week, the receivers will have his back, he said.
“Whoever the coaches decide to put out there at quarterback, we’re going to ride with them until the end, until the wheels fall off,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter who’s out there, we’re going to play our hardest.”
In other UT news, Fulmer says he won’t make his weekly media appearance today because he will be attending the funeral of a family friend.
Fulmer said at the Vols’ practice Sunday night that he will be attending the funeral of friend and mentor Robert “Skip” Carr in St. Petersburg, Fla., who died Friday.
Fulmer usually speaks with the media around noon every Tuesday.
He says he may also miss the team’s practice this afternoon.
The Vols (1-3) are preparing this week to face Northern Illinois (2-2) on Saturday night. They’re coming off a 14-12 loss to 13th-ranked Auburn.
Tennessee is also facing a competition at quarterback this week between Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens as the Vols try to improve their offensive performance.