Dear Derek Dooley: Orange & White Game Format

The spring game means nothing. But in mid-April with real football 136 days away, the spring game means everything.

Nothing about the Orange & White Game can be trusted. For proof, here's RTT's recap of the 2008 Orange & White Game, the debut of the great and powerful Clawfense:

This team is in good hands with Jonathan Crompton as the leader. Yeah, he played well, going 13 of 20 for 266 yards and three touchdowns and only one interception, but he's also got the control of the team. As much as I loved Erik Ainge, I was often really disappointed to see his response to throwing a touchdown pass, which was too often to hold both arms in the air and run toward the sideline. Not so with Crompton. Crompton sprints to the end zone to hook up and share congratulations with the receivers and linemen and whoever else gets down there. He was even the first one to the group celebration when Gerald Jones threw a TD pass out of the G-Gun to Denarius Moore (he's No. 6, by the way -- I think), and he wasn't even involved in the play.

That performance was the final step off the ledge and into preseason hype, the glory days of summer 2008 when Phillip Fulmer had a contract extension and the Clawfense was equal parts mystery and dynasty. Did Crompton's performance come in the most vanilla of settings? Who cares!

And see, that's the thing about the Orange & White Game: even when something looks really bad, "who cares!" is still the friendly answer we can run to. For proof: Tyler Bray went 5 of 30 last year. But who cares! And come September, Cincinnati cared plenty.

The real stuff has already been taught and the real questions answered in the closed scrimmages. The Orange & White Game is perhaps more about the fans than any other day on Tennessee's calendar. And, barring injury, it's win-win: anything bad, and it's just the spring game. Anything good, we build momentum.

And so, for a program and a fanbase dying for positive momentum, wouldn't you want to make Saturday's game as positive as possible?

Because if so, there's no way you should hold another player draft and completely divide up the roster.

Last year the Vols did the player draft thing - and the players may love that format more than any other, who knows. But it certainly helped produce Bray's terrible horrible no good very bad day - he was on the opposite sideline from Jim Chaney, without half of his firepower at wide receiver, and the offensive line was completely divided, making it hard for anyone to get going.

There are two other, more entertaining schools of thought for spring games:

  • First Team vs First Team - Defense wears orange, offense wears white, and away we go. You get to see Tennessee's starters go at each other for probably about two quarters. You get to see the new 3-4 go against Tennessee's vaunted passing attack. You get to see if the Vols can run the football against players who will be starting this fall. It's all the star power on the field at once. It's legitimate bragging rights, which would hopefully bring out the best of both sides. While one side having a huge day at the expense of the other could be problematic, again, it's the spring game...fans will gravitate toward the positive in April much faster than we will in September.
  • First Team vs Second Team - The quickest way to mass produce hope. Bray and the offense get to take their shots at the second team defense. The new 3-4 gets to look (as) awesome (as possible) against the second team offense. Everybody wins except your backups, and maybe they get to win in the second half. Tennessee fans have to go all the way back to Cincinnati last September to find real hope right now. Wouldn't you love to see something that gave you hope in this moment? Because this is the way to do it.
If the Vols go player draft again, units like the offensive line may really suffer. I mean, maybe we are in fact deep enough to play with a mixed roster and it'll go better than last year, I don't know...but if I'm Derek Dooley, I let the ones take their shots at the twos for at least two quarters, and do whatever I can to build positive momentum for this program right now.

The quality of play and the quality of hope will be higher if the Vols move away from the player draft and let their first team offense and first team defense play together. It's what we all want to see. For a team with no quarterback drama and very few actual position battles with twenty returning starters, the best way to make the Orange & White Game matter is to showcase your best football to give us all our best hope.
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