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Here's to hoping that the Tennessee Volunteer defensive line is really, really good

The Tennessee Volunteers' Season of Constant Sorrow left questions scattered all over the field for 2009. Chief among them, especially in light of the fact that we did not recruit a quarterback this off season, is whether we have anyone on the roster who can actually succeed at QB.

That may still be a big question with only two practices and a spring game remaining, but if it is, it's for a different reason than we anticipated. In last Friday's scrimmage, Jonathan Crompton completed only 8 of 11 passes for 91 yards, while B.J. Coleman went 11-16 for 151 yards, two touchdowns, and zero turnovers. In five possessions, Coleman's offense scored three touchdowns and a field goal. Crompton's possessions ended with two field goals, a safety, and a lost fumble.

So it's pretty clear that Coleman is the better quarterback, right? Not necessarily. Crompton's going against the ones and Coleman the twos. A closer look at the beginning of Crompton's Friday scrimmage:

  • 3rd play: sacked by LB LaMarcus Thompson
  • 4th play: sacked by safety Dennis Rogan
  • 2nd play next possession: sacked by Chris Walker
  • sometime after that: 8-yard completion to Montario Hardesty
  • 1st play 3rd possession: sacked by Walker for a safety
  • 1st play 4th possession: sacked by DT Montori Hughes
  • last play 4th possession: incompletion
  • 2nd play 5th possession: sacked and stripped by DE Ben Martin

So . . . eight pass attempts, six sacks, one completion, one incompletion. Not knowing how long Crompton was holding the ball, you can't really know for sure where the blame lies for the sacks. Kiffin alternately says the defensive line is fantastic and that the pass protection stinks, though, so those statements and other compliments of Crompton suggest that Crompton's not holding the ball too long -- he is just not getting enough time. And considering that, finishing 8-11 for 91 yards isn't so bad.

DT Dan Williams has experience, has lost weight, and is a force in the middle. The coaching staff has said all spring that DE Chris Walker is "unblockable," and that the other DE, Ben Martin, isn't far behind him. The big question mark along the line early was the other tackle position, and freshman Montori Hughes is consistently being tagged as the biggest surprise this spring. LB Nick Reveiz says he's like a 6'-4", 312-pound Eric Berry.

Behind those guys, though, the depth is a real concern, which probably explains why Crompton's numbers against the first string defense are not as impressive as Coleman's against the second string.

So the biggest question is whether our offensive line is that bad or our defensive starters that good. That's the real question, and it's making the question of whether we have anyone who can play QB for the team this fall much more difficult to answer. If we have a killer defensive line, that will be fantastic news, as things should get much easier for the guy who ends up quarterbacking for us.

If, on the other hand, our defensive line just looks good because they're playing against an offensive line that's been dismantled and rebuilt so many times that there's no way around it being wobbly, then we're going to have a major problem again this season. And the QB may take the blame for it.