It was a work in progress, in the most literal sense.
The work paid off on Saturday as Tennessee's new offense debuted in the Orange & White Spring Game in Neyland Stadium.
The offense and its leader, quarterback Jonathan Crompton, struggled against a talented defense while installing the offense during spring practice, and the defense dominated early on.
When it was completely installed last Saturday, the offense had its best day yet.
In the Orange & White Game, it had an even better day.
Crompton led touchdown drives four of the first five times he touched the ball and finished with 266 yards passing on 13 completions in 20 attempts for three touchdowns and one interception as his White team beat the Orange, 38-16.
Forget the fact Crompton and his offensive teammates wore Orange jerseys. Under the scoring system, anything Crompton did counted for the White team, while anything the other quarterbacks did counted for the Orange. Crompton was clearly better.
“I thought early, especially, we executed extremely well offensively,” said Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer. “It was good to see Jonathan in that kind of rhythm. There were some really big plays in the passing game. I thought he had a good day except for that last ball.
"I don’t know his numbers, but they were outstanding the first two-thirds of the scrimmage. Generally, it was a good day for us. We thought about putting him back in so he wouldn't end on that note, but if we did and he got hurt, we would have regretted it.”
Crompton opened the game by finding sophomore Denarius Moore on a deep route and hit him in stride for a 74-yard scoring strike on the very first play.
"Can't complain about that,'' laughed tailback Arian Foster, who was limited to just one 9-yard run and was then held out to avoid any chance of injury. "We've got a whole bunch of playmakers on this team, and it showed today.''
Moore, who finished with 91 yards on two catches, is one of them. His other catch was a 17-yard scoring pass from sophomore Gerald Jones, out of the G-Gun formation.
Josh Briscoe, who caught TD passes of 18 and 31 yards and finished with four catches for 72 yards, is another. So is Jones, who caught 3 passes for 47 yards,. He threw the TD to Moore and ran a keeper from the G-Gun for 12 yards.
"They have a lot of confidence in me, getting me the ball,'' said Jones. He said others may have been surprised at his passing accuracy, but he wasn't.
"I passed for 2,000 yards and ran for 2,000 yards my senior year in high school,'' said Moore. "I don't know if my wide receivers made me look good or if I got the ball to where it needed to be.''
"We were just having fun with that,'' said offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. "If it works in practice, it will never work in a game. I don't think we ever completed it in practice, so I decided to try it.''
Jones found a wide-open Moore in the end zone as the defense bit on the run because Jones had kept the ball so much.
It was a blowout in the first half, as Crompton led scoring drives of 76, 71, 75 and 67 yards four of the first five times he touched the ball.
Lennon Creer, who rushed for 59 yards on 10 carries, finished off the second drive, which covered 71 yards in five plays with a 3-yard run. His 28-yard run set up the score. Crompton then hit Briscoe for an 18-yard score on his third possession, completing a 75-yard drive in which he was 4-of-5 for 65 yards.
After finally having a drive stopped, Crompton hit 3-of-5 passes for 61 yards to move the team 67 yards in five plays.
Included was a 22-yard pass to Jones and passes of 8 and 31 to Briscoe, the latter for the score. That made the score 35-3 at halftime.
Crompton never got a chance on another first-half scoring drive. Eric Berry took an inteception back 25 yards to the 17 and that's when Jones was inserted to run the G-Gun and found Moore open in the end zone on the first play.
"The defense was a little limited and couldn't pressure us a lot, so just as I didn't get too upset when we threw five interceptions two weeks ago, I am not all that high today,'' said Clawson. "The line blocked the guys they should block, the wide receivers executed, Jon got the ball to them and the running backs ran the ball. We had a stretch there when we did things very well.''
"As we were putting the offense in, there was a lot of thinking and then playing,'' said offensive lineman Anthony Parker. "Now that we have the offense in and understand it, we can just go out there and play. We've come together and are playing better. We moved a step forward in understanding things.''
"Once we get settled down, we should get even better,'' said Crompton.
Going against the No. 2 defense, instead of the first team, also made a difference.
"With those guys (UT's No. 1 defensive backfield) back there, there is not much of a window,'' said Clawson. "The receivers had to learn to run precise routes and Jon had to thread the ball in there. There was usually just a crack. Playing against those guys definitely has helps us get better.''
The defensive stars showed up again. Not only did Berry pick off a pass and take it back to set up a score, Demetrice Morley also picked off a pass and took it back 18 yards. That set up a Daniel Lincoln 43-yard field goal that made it 38-3.
Crompton's only mistake was trying to force the ball over the middle to tight end Luke Stocker on his last throw. LaMarcus Thompson, a second-team linebacker, picked it off and took it back 34 yards to set up a 45-yard field goal by back-up place-kicker Devin Mathis that made it 38-6.
"In that situation, you have to throw it away or over the top. You can't afford to underthrow it. You have to consider who you are throwing it to. A wide receiver might be able to separate from defenders and catch it, but not a tight end,'' said Clawson.
Crompton said that one bad play took some of the shine off his performance.
"You have to realize that in a three-point game,'' said Clawson, "a throw like that might get you beat.''
Rico McCoy led the first-team defense with seven tackles, while second-team member Anthony Anderson led all defensive players with eight stops.
Starting defensive end Wes Brown had a big day on the defensive line with four tackles for loss and two sacks. Morley broke up two passes in addition to his interception. DeAngelo Willingham also had two pass break-ups and two tackles.
“We limited the defense a little bit as far as how much they could do with pressure, so that wasn’t totally what our defense will be,” Fulmer said. “The ones kept knocking the ball loose and getting their hands on some balls, and that was certainly a positive thing.”
The Orange scored its first touchdown early in the fourth quarter on an 8-yard pass from B.J. Coleman to true freshman running back Tauren Poole, who enrolled in January. That play capped a nine-play, 67-yard drive and was the only touchdown for the second-teamers.
Taka Koyano kicked a 41-yard field goal attempt late in the game for Orange to conclude the scoring.
The offensive starters for the game were tackles Chris Scott and Ramon Foster, guards Vladimir Richard and Jacques McLendon, center Anthony Parker, tight end Luke Stocker, receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, fullback Kevin Cooper, tailback Arian Foster and quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
On defense, those earning a starting nod were ends Robert Ayers and Wes Brown; tackles Dan Williams and Walter Fisher; linebackers Adam-Myers White, Ellix Wilson and Rico McCoy; cornerbacks Dennis Rogan and DeAngelo Willingham and safeties Demetrice Morley and Eric Berry.
“I’m really happy to get through the game without an injury,'' said Fulmer. "I thought early, especially, we executed extremely well offensively. It was good to see John in that kind of rhythm.
"We held Arian Foster, obviously, who we think is going to be a heck of a back for us. It was great to get that kind of work for those other backs.
“I was pleased with the kickers and getting a chance to see our punter for the first five weeks (of the 2008 season), at least, punt live. Chad did a good job and it looked like he did the best job on kickoffs as well.
“It will be a good film study for us. There were some really big plays in the passing game. I thought we executed well, too. I’m not really happy right now with the way we ran the football overall, but generally it was a good day for us.''
Fulmer liked the progress Crompton made in the spring.
“His execution, the understanding of the offense, getting the ball out quickly, getting the ball to playmakers, which is what we said we wanted to do from the very beginning.
"He’s had a tremendous spring, and today kind of capped it off. I still pointed out to him that he’s got to take care of the football a little bit better than he did. It was great what he did in the early part of the scrimmage.
"To have that one play is kind of a downer, but he is definitely our quarterback and definitely a guy who has shown the ability to run the offense.''
Added Fulmer: “The secondary is very talented and experienced enough now to get themselves in places where they can make plays. If they get their hands on the ball, then those two (Morley and Berry) especially can make big things happen.''
* Parker had his corn rows sheared by his mother and Arian Foster on the field after the game.
"I've had them for 10 years,'' said Parker, who passed up a chance to make himself available for the NFL Draft to return and play his senior year. "It was time for a change. I have been thinking about it for a long time, and it was time to do it.''
* The 1998 National Championship team, including All-Pro tight end Jason Witten, was honored at halftime.
* Now, it's time to concentrate on summer workouts and preparing for the opener Sept. 1 at UCLA.
" I just told the guys that now Phase Three starts,'' said Fulmer. "Summer is so crucial for us; the leadership has got to grow. We’ve grown some in that area. Finals are coming up, coaches are recruiting and I will be in a fund-raising mode in different places. The leadership has to be there.''
Here is the revised schedule for this fall.
Monday, Sept. 1 -- at UCLA, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, Sept. 13 -- Alabama-Birmingham, TBA
Saturday, Sept. 20 -- Florida, TBA
Saturday, Sept. 27 -- at Auburn, TBA
Saturday, Oct. 4 -- Northern Illinois, TBA
Saturday, Oct. 11 -- at Georgia, TBA
Saturday, Oct. 18 -- Mississippi State, TBA
Saturday, Nov. 1 -- at South Carolina, TBA
Saturday, Nov. 8 -- Wyoming (Homecoming), TBA
Saturday, Nov. 22 -- at Vanderbilt, TBA
Saturday, Nov.29 -- Kentucky, TBA
Saturday, Dec. 6 -- SEC Championship Game, Atlanta