KNOXVILLE - Ranked a four-star recruit by most scouting services coming out of Central H.S. in Memphis, Tennessee freshman tight end Cameron Clear is starting to show his coaches why.
“He’s really starting to come on,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “It took him awhile early on, probably not being around this much scheme, if you will. It took him awhile to really learn and understand what to do. It’s pretty complex for tight ends.
“He’s starting to now get it and once guys start getting it, they play faster and their abilities start showing up a little bit better. He has tremendous size, he’s very athletic, he’s a strong guy and I think he has a great future.”
At 6-6 and 265 pounds, Clear was heavily recruited as an offensive lineman, but was looking for the chance he has now.
“I told him he has all the tools to be a good tight end,” Dooley said. “We don’t know how his body is going to change and develop but as long as his body is the way it is now, I think he can be a good tight end. That’s all I sold him on that we were going to give him an opportunity to do that.”
His previously mentioned size gives him an advantage that most freshmen don’t have.
“He has such good stature and is such a large young man that the wear-and-tear of the season doesn’t appear to be beating him down,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “He’s hanging in that way. A lot of kids about this time of their freshman year start to be a little beat up and a little sore. He didn’t play a lot of snaps early, and right now he is starting to play a lot. His season started a couple of weeks ago in a lot of ways.”
Clear hauled in his first career reception last weekend against Middle Tennessee after his development earned him increased playing time.
“He played 38 snaps last week,” tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Eric Russell said. “He’s earned (playing time). There was a reason he wasn’t getting a lot (of time) early and that’s what I kept saying, ‘He’s coming around.’ You can see the transition from fall camp to now and he’s a completely different guy. He’s not there yet, but it’s why you recruited him.”
PICKING A PUNTER
With a healthy Michael Palardy expected to return this week after missing the MTSU game with an injury, Russell is back to having two options at punter. The duo of redshirt freshman Matt Darr and sophomore Palardy have shared the duties this season with similar success.
Darr has punted 22 times for an average of 38.4 with eight punts inside the 20-yard line. Palardy has booted 12 punts for an average of 39.0 with one punt inside the 20.
Having choices is a good thing for Russell.
“It will probably be a gametime (decision),” he said. “It’s just kind of feel on where we are at. Mike’s probably a little better directional guy. Matt’s more of a hang-time guy.
“So it’s going to be based on need and field position could come into it. What are we needing out of the kick at that point of the game?”
With Palardy sidelined last week, Darr punted all five times for the Vols and compiled a 38.0 average. It was just the second time this season he was the lone punter with multiple punts in a game, the other being vs. Georgia.
“Last week, Matt had to be everything, where we were minus Mike,” said Russell. “Matt’s made some significant strides this week in some things we wanted him to do. It’s like the light finally went on.”
The Vols hope it burns bright on Saturday in Fayetteville.
JOHNSON STILL USING FULLBACK SKILLS
After the Vols’ defense struggled with gaining turnovers over the first half of the season, senior linebacker Austin Johnson has had two interceptions alone in two of the last three games.
A fullback in his first two seasons at UT, Johnson averaged 20.5 yards on his pair of INT returns.
“He is tipping it to himself,” linebackers coach Peter Sirmon said. “He actually secured it pretty well. He looked pretty good running in both situations. He looked like he had fullback background, which he does. I think anytime you have a player on defense that in high school was a multi-talented guy that either returned punts, played quarterback, or ran with football, I think the best players in high school always play multiple positions I think it helps when you finally settle in college.”
Johnson, who is tied for the team lead with 62 tackles, has earned high regard from his position coach while playing alongside a pair of freshman linebackers.
“He had a great off season,” Sirmon said. “He has been a leader of the defense really since the spring, since he popped into that role. He has gotten better every week and he has practiced well. Football matters to him. He practices hard and he does all the things we try to coach him up on. It is good to see results on the field.”
Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon
(On his hands as a linebacker)
“I could catch. I could catch most of them. The opportunities aren’t really there and sometimes they sneak up on you and you kind of panic a little bit. I could probably catch with our group of guys.”
(On the progress of A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt)
“We have said all along, performance is a function of repetition. The more reps they have gotten the better they perform. They are still continuing to get a lot better as they go. What hasn’t changed is their attention to detail, their mentality on the field. When you talk about swinging every play, and when the game is over and you look up and see how it all shook out. Every one of these games they haven’t been affected, they have continued to make plays in the first quarter or the fourth quarter. I don’t think they have gotten frustrated with the results. I think the best thing they have done is they have taken a lot of ownership on improving every play.”
Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph
(On Justin Coleman and Marsalis Teague)
“I thought they were fine. They got challenged on some balls. The one thing I was impressed with them was they were both able to make some tackles in the open field. A lot of those balls come up quick, they got themselves into position to make some plays. I was happy where they were at in the last game. Justin, I think, took some steps at Alabama to show that he was ready to go. And for a freshman, the time off I think might have helped him clear his mind and relax a little bit.”
(On preparing for Arkansas)
“This is definitely the biggest challenge of a passing game we have had this year since Cincinnati. They have dynamic receivers, seven guys with 10 or more catches and 2,400 yards between their receivers. Their quarterback is probably one of the top in the nation. This will be a good grading scale to see exactly how we have progressed this season.”
Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw
(On Justin Worley’s level of comfort with everything he has on his plate)
“We are pushing him a little bit with some different schemes and some different things. We are going to throw some stuff up on the wall and see what sticks with him a little bit. We know some of the base things that he has been throwing since he has got here and we are throwing in a couple new things and see how they work and see how he likes them and see what sticks.”
(On Worley playing shotgun and under center)
“He was under center a lot in that game. He threw some really good balls under center and threw the touchdown under center. So that is not always the case, I think he feels comfortable under center. He threw a lot of balls in high school in the gun so he is continually evolving into a pro-style quarterback.”