Fullbacks put to work catching passes

Johnson, Cooper look to impress Kiffin

Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton dropped back to pass Thursday afternoon during an 11-on-11 drill and threw a long touchdown pass to sophomore Austin Johnson, who beat man-to-man coverage and made a great catch.

So what's the big deal? It's only a practice, right?

Well, Johnson is a fullback, and fullbacks haven't been a big part of the Vols' offense the past couple of years. That could change this season under first-year UT coach Lane Kiffin, who says the 2009 playbook might have more in it for the fullbacks.

"Yeah, if they continue to make plays like today," Kiffin said after practice at Haslam Field. "I thought Austin had a really big day, played extremely well. There's a very good competition going on there."

That competition involves Johnson, a sophomore, and junior Kevin Cooper, who is slotted as the starter on the current depth chart.

Cooper, at 6-foot and 245 pounds, has the experience edge. He started 10 games last season, played in all 12 games, and had seven catches for 42 yards. He had five carries for 10 yards.

As a freshman, Cooper was used primarily as a goal-line blocker, played in seven games, and didn't have a carry or catch. He caught a short touchdown pass from Crompton during a seven-on-seven drill Thursday.

Johnson, 6-2 and 234 pounds, played in six games last season on special teams and as a fullback. Cooper knows he doesn't have a lock on the starting job.

"I feel good about it. I like the way (Johnson's) working," Cooper said. "We're just pushing each other. It's all about competition right now on this program. That's what it's all about."

And it might mean more touches for the fullbacks.

"I do anticipate getting more balls," Cooper said. "I don't know about carries yet, but the offense is so versatile that anybody can get the ball at any time, so I believe there will be a lot of catches for a lot of people."

Let's Get Physical: The Vols practiced for the first time in shoulder pads, and as expected, there was some heavy hitting.

"(A) very physical practice today," Kiffin said. "They came out Day Three, the first time with shoulder pads on, an extremely long practice, extremely physical practice. It's a great thing about fall, having all these freshmen to add to the group.

"It gives us a bunch of numbers and we can really get after 'em. I'm very pleased by their effort. Again, they just continue to come out and work, and we're going to try to bury 'em and see if we can, but they're not letting us, so it's good to see."

The Vols have made it through the first three days without any significant injuries, and Kiffin doesn't plan to back off yet.

"We try to make (practices) as physical as we can even without the pads, but to have the shoulder pads on really picks up the tempo and intensity," Kiffin said. "Sometimes you almost get a little worried and need to slow 'em down, but we need to learn how to hit so we're not going to slow them down yet."

Scary Moment: Junior Gerald Jones made a diving catch for a touchdown off a pass from Crompton and was slow to get up, apparently after landing hard on his shoulder. Jones, however, returned and later caught two more touchdown passes: a long pass from Nick Stephens on a fly route and a short pass from Crompton on a fade route.

Kiffin was asked his thoughts when he saw Jones struggling to get up after the first touchdown catch.

"They need it (the physical practice)," Kiffin said. "There's no other way to simulate it. We'd rather have it happen now. Sometimes when you go 80 percent or whatever, some people get injured too. I think when you play 100 percent you actually get injured less."

QB Update: Crompton and Stephens continue to battle for the starting quarterback job. Crompton, the starter in six of the eight games he played in 2008, is listed as the starter on the current depth chart. Stephens played in seven games with six starts during midseason.

"I thought the quarterbacks were better (Thursday)," Kiffin said. "After the film (Wednesday), it was not a very good day, but I thought (Thursday) they came back and played better and took care of the ball better. They threw a number of picks (Wednesday), so it was good to see them bounce back (Thursday)."

During the seven-on-seven drill, freshman Eric Gordan intercepted a pass by Stephens in the end zone, while redshirt freshman Prentiss Waggner intercepted a pass by Crompton in the end zone.

"Seven-on-seven at the beginning it was really good, not as good late, but the rest of the practice they were pretty decent," Kiffin said of the quarterbacks.

Welcome Back: Kiffin and selected coaches and players are helping host the 2009 Welcome Back Barbecue, set for today at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Knox County Chapter of the UT Alumni Association invites fans to enjoy a barbecue dinner while hearing an early take on the 2009 Tennessee football season.

Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the program begins at 7. Parking is available in the G-10 garage between the arena and Neyland Stadium.

Dave Link is a freelance contributor.

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Comments » 36

mdvol writes:

I'm sorry.....we use a fullback??? Since when? A lead blocker for a RB....now that is an idea!

VolChick2009 writes:

Good to see the FB in use again. This team seems to have plenty of weapons....they just have to find ways to use them instead of the "same ole same ole" from recent years.

reidtownriverrat writes:

like to have sum at barbQ

blitzshoot writes:

Practice a bit different this year huh?

Greer_Vol_22 writes:

Scary Moment: Junior Gerald Jones made a diving catch for a touchdown off a pass from Crompton and was slow to get up.....JC and the Boucepass Gang

SEAL_9821 writes:

I can remember how much more dominant our running game was when we used a fullback. It makes a big difference against a big physical team like Florida, Bama, LSU,etc. A prime example is Shawn Bryson. He was a stud and paved the way for many great runs.

TSNSD4UT writes:

Watched Coop play many games at Chatt. Baylor was a very strong runner with good hands.

FWBVol writes:

in response to Greer_Vol_22:

Scary Moment: Junior Gerald Jones made a diving catch for a touchdown off a pass from Crompton and was slow to get up.....JC and the Boucepass Gang

Come on Greer_Vol_22, it doesn't say Crompton threw a bounce pass. The pass could have been long or to the outside. Crompton might have thrown it in the best possible place to avoid a pick. The important thing is it was a touchdown pass. But yes, it could have been a bounce pass.

TSNSD4UT writes:

TD passes don't bounce

xvolx writes:

Hope they catch passes better than they blocked last year.

acolvol#632266 writes:

in response to Rok_Etop:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Get a life dumb arse

TnScooby writes:

in response to TSNSD4UT:

TD passes don't bounce

LMAO..very true...good to see FB be a position of emphasis in the passing game.

Go Vols!!

ArealVolFan writes:

in response to Greer_Vol_22:

Scary Moment: Junior Gerald Jones made a diving catch for a touchdown off a pass from Crompton and was slow to get up.....JC and the Boucepass Gang

Yeh...you seem to forget the word touchdown is in that too. Lay of Crompton and Stevens have given more for UT than you ever will.

SeaBass writes:

moose johnson was a good fullback used in all phases at dallas out of the backfield and blocking for pretty good runner.the tight end and fullback is very important for a offense and especially this one.

graphpro#231211 writes:

Whats up with the other 2 quarterbacks? The baseball player and Laimison. What gives?

Greer_Vol_22 writes:

in response to FWBVol:

Come on Greer_Vol_22, it doesn't say Crompton threw a bounce pass. The pass could have been long or to the outside. Crompton might have thrown it in the best possible place to avoid a pick. The important thing is it was a touchdown pass. But yes, it could have been a bounce pass.

None of us know, but ask yourself this ...if Gerald had to make a diving catch....chance are it wasn't in the best of locations...all in fun until he does it in a game...

NobodyCares (Inactive) writes:

in response to Greer_Vol_22:

None of us know, but ask yourself this ...if Gerald had to make a diving catch....chance are it wasn't in the best of locations...all in fun until he does it in a game...

Whatever Greer. Chances are it was a good play and Crompton and Jones made it happen. It's called Tennessee Football. I know you are not too young to remember Tennessee Football. Right?

There is still room on the bandwagon. Hop on board.

VolChick2009 writes:

in response to graphpro#231211:

Whats up with the other 2 quarterbacks? The baseball player and Laimison. What gives?

Kiffin said they are not even close to being able to play. They (the coaches) had to call cadance for them because they have not learned it yet.

jsm67vol writes:

in response to Greer_Vol_22:

None of us know, but ask yourself this ...if Gerald had to make a diving catch....chance are it wasn't in the best of locations...all in fun until he does it in a game...

A bounce pass is still better than an INT, especially in the endzone. Crompton will be better this year. The remaining question is, can he be great? I for one can't wait to find out.

tennezz writes:

Anyone know what # they gave Lamaison?

tums writes:

in response to tennezz:

Anyone know what # they gave Lamaison?

19, son

rich182x writes:

Werent we this excited before the start of last season? Ill curve my enthusiasm till I see some results, and so should you. Just sayin'

VOLKING writes:

With all the changes since last year, how many of us will be dissappointed if we go 6-6 or 7-5? I am really not looking too hard at wins and losses this year. I hope we win them all, but I just want to see us moving in a positive direction this year. I'll give Coach K 3 years to get us turned around. Hope he does it in 2. Don't really know what to expect until we get a proven QB under center.

cloudodust writes:

FB's. Vital to success but much overlooked in many programs. They won't win the Heisman but a darn good one should win an award on any team for role of Best Supporting Offensive Player. UT's gonna need weapons at all positions offensivly. Give the FB touches and he'll play his guts out for you...

volstokke writes:

in response to cloudodust:

FB's. Vital to success but much overlooked in many programs. They won't win the Heisman but a darn good one should win an award on any team for role of Best Supporting Offensive Player. UT's gonna need weapons at all positions offensivly. Give the FB touches and he'll play his guts out for you...

I agree entirley with that statement. Look at Peyton Hillis at Arkansas a couple of years ago. He was MR.Everything for them. I would love to have a guy like that in Orange.

gnm53108 writes:

in response to FreeTDTN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Me too.

Frost brewed.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

A truly novel approach at Neyland.

Sadly, one of last fullback memories is an uncovered Ga FB standing alone in the end zone with the pig. The 2-9 had struck again.

richvol writes:

Shawn Bryson was a great fullback but does anyone remember Greg Amsler...he was extremely effective as a receiver coming out of the backfield...and how about Mose Phillips? Richard Pickens was a darn good fullback in the late sixties too.

Davy_Crockett writes:

Our fullbacks out of the backfield will be a major part of Kiffin's success. Plus it will help Crompton to be able to check down and get out of bad plays.. I like this! Go Vols!

Volunatic writes:

in response to mdvol:

I'm sorry.....we use a fullback??? Since when? A lead blocker for a RB....now that is an idea!

I thought the same thing when I read the headline.
Good stuff. We'll need some good blocks from the FBs to help open up the running game this year.
GO VOLS!!!

Volunatic writes:

in response to reidtownriverrat:

like to have sum at barbQ

The "Welcome Back BBQ" is fun because you get to meet the players and coaches and get autographs. The few times I've gone I thought it was a pretty good experience overall.

Volunatic writes:

in response to VolChick2009:

Kiffin said they are not even close to being able to play. They (the coaches) had to call cadance for them because they have not learned it yet.

That's not unexpected.
I doubted either one would be able to contribute before October in anything other than "garbage time" action in games.

shoalcreekvol writes:

Unfortunately in one play Corey Anderson changed the fullback position at UT seemingly forever. The position officially became part of the OL after that.

transplantiam writes:

in response to tums:

19, son

19, Huh! Remember the Great One? My childhood hero! Johnnie U! If Lamiason can be half as good that would definitely be at least an SEC trophy!

TennesseeGorilla writes:

I'm tired of seeing articles saying so and so is slated as the starter because they started last year or had this many starts last year, We SUCKED last year! Blow that offense up! I don't think we should have any returning starters on offense, they don't deserve it.

allvol32 writes:

Austin Johnson is a gamer...I think he will be a key role player on this team.

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