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Martin gives Vols taste of the future

Sports Writer

MIAMI -- Tee Martin knew that when Peyton Manning finally left for the NFL, the quarterback position was his.

Late in the fourth quarter of the University of Tennessee's Orange Bowl loss to Nebraska, his dream came true as Manning was pulled for good and replaced by the talented sophomore.

Martin seized the moment, quieted the critics and gave hope to the Vol faithful that a Manning-less squad can indeed run with the big boys of college football.

Martin directed the Volunteer offense on an eight-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in a touchdown strike to senior Andy McCullough. Martin's scoring drive, in which he was 4-of-4 passing for 53 yards, was probably the most impressive drive of the day for a UT offense that managed over 200 yards less than the Cornhuskers. Martin also scrambled for 11 yards.

"I think that's a beginning for 1998," said offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. "He's going to have some confidence coming off that drive, so that's a real positive for us."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer couldn't agree more.

"You like to see your future play well," he said. "Tee has worked awful hard and has not had too many opportunities."

Martin's jump in the depth chart nearly came earlier than the fourth quarter. Due to Manning's injured knee, Martin took the majority of the snaps in practice in the weeks preceding the game. He realized that he might be the man in a potential national championship game against the Huskers, so he made the most of his time with the first team.

And when the time finally came to hit the field, he drew upon his practice time to pull him through on his superb touchdown drive.

"I realized the game is a lot like practice -- the guys move a little bit faster, but the reads are the same. Having a lot of reps at practice really helped me out in my game preparation," Martin said.

Tennessee loses a lot from this year's SEC Championship squad, but Martin feels all the pieces are in order to continue in stride.

"We have a lot to look forward to on offense," he said. "Most of our offensive line is coming back. Most of our receivers are coming back. We have Jamal Lewis coming back. I have a lot of confidence going into next year."

With Martin at the helm, UT fans can expect to see quite a change in offensive strategy. Martin is adept at rolling out, so the option and rollout will likely find their way into the repertoire. Cutcliffe will also utilize Martin's cannon of an arm on deep routes.

But the biggest change will be not having four-year starter Manning under center. That, however, doesn't bother Martin.

"I know I have some big shoes to fill," he said. "Peyton Manning is a great guy. I don't know about even coming close to breaking all the records he's done, but I'm not here for personal gain. I'm just here to help Tennessee win."

And from all indications, he will.

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Copyright © 1998, The Daily Beacon. All rights reserved.