Previews 2011: Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee Volunteers did well in 2010 to rebound at season’s end and qualify for a bowl game. But the couldn’t escape trouble in the offseason, first in the form of a distracting investigation and most recently with the return … of the return … of the return … of the suspension of safety Janzen Jackson. The bigger issue, though, is that this is still a team in rebuilding mode, but the Volunteers don’t have the talent they once had, and prospects for a return to a high talent level are sketchy at best. This year’s team would do well simply to make a bowl game.

 

Returning Offensive Starters: 5 (LT, C, RT, QB, RB)

Returning Defensive Starters: 5 (RDT, WLB, LCB, SS, FS)

Returning Specialists: 0

 

Projected Overall Record: 6-6 (UA, Ark, LSU, UF, UGA, USC)

Projected Record:                  2-6 (UA, Ark, LSU, UF, UGA, USC)

Projected Record:                2-3 (UF, UGA, USC)

 

Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)

Quarterbacks:                Fr                            Defensive Line:    Av

Running Backs:                Fr                            Linebackers:          Fr

Wide Receivers:                Vg                           Defensive Backs: Av

Offensive Line:                Av                           Special Teams:   Fr

 

OFFENSE

 

Tennessee runs a pro-set attack complete with fullback, although the strength of the team may be in its receiving corps. Head coach prefers to establish the run first, but the Volunteers finished just 105th in the country in that category in 2010. The offensive line is exceptionally thin, while the quarterback position is yet to work itself out. This could be a rough year for scoring points in Knoxville.

 

QUARTERBACKS (rating: Fr, 4th SEC East, 8th overall)

Essentially during the game, Matt Simms yielded to in 2010. The results were poor for both players. Simms is probably the better quarterback now, but he’s a senior with limited upside. Bray, the coaches believe, could be an elite quarterback by the time he’s done. Evidence backing that assumption, though, has been hard to come by. Bray is best described as gangly, with little athletic ability and limited passing skills. He’s 6’6” but barely tops 200 pounds. He finished the year with acceptable stats (125-of-224, 55.8%, 1,849 yards, 18 TD, 10 INT), but wasn’t a difference-maker and had a horrid spring. Simms could go back under center again, or the job could fall to true freshman Justin Worley, who will unseat Bray at some point unless Bray steps things up considerably.

 

RUNNING BACKS (rating: Fr, 4th SEC East, 10th overall)

Like Bray at quarterback, Tauren Poole put up decent numbers at running back in 2010 – 204 carries, 1,034 yards, 5.1 avg., 11 touchdowns. But Poole was stymied by top defenses and would be mostly a change-of-pace or third-down back on better teams Raijon Neal and Toney Williams return to back him up, although neither grabbed any headlines in 2010. Signee Tom Smith will get some carries. Tennessee utilizes a fullback in its base offense, and Channing Fugate and Ben Bartholomew will compete for the position. Fugate has a head start.

 

WIDE RECEIVERS (rating: Vg 2nd SEC East, 5th overall)

Despite a general lack of experience, this could figure to be the strength of the Volunteer offense, if not the team. Justin Hunter put up wild numbers in 2010, catching 16 passes for 415 yards and 7 touchdowns, an average of a whopping 25.9 yards per catch. That kind of big-play ability hasn’t been seen in the SEC for some time, and Hunter simply runs by and over people. Da’Rick Rogers is poised for a breakout season as Hunter’s counterpart. Both players are tall and athletic. Zach Rogers and Vincent Dallas figure to be the top backups. Rogers showed a lot of promise in 2010, but has been hampered by a leg injury in fall camp. Dallas is a freshman. Matt Milton has some experience, but like Rogers, is currently hurt. Dylan West and Jacob Carter might be forced into action if Rogers and Milton stay hurt. DeAnthony Arnett figures to play early as well. Like Dallas, he is a true freshman. Tight end Mychal Rivera doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he blocks fairly well and can catch, and many observers have him pegged as a player to watch. Brendan Downs backs him up.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE (rating: Av, 5th SEC East, 9th overall)

Given the circumstances, Tennessee’s line did about as well as could be expected in 2010. There was no depth, and the two best players were true freshmen. Those players are now sophomores, right tackle Ju’Wuan James and center James Stone. Together with returning left tackle Dallas Thomas, they will fill three holes along the line. The guards are new, although right guard Zach Fulton has starting experience. JerQuari Schofield was a key substitute in 2010 and draws the left guard assignment. Depth, again, is scarce, but it gets an infusion from Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard, who will be allowed to play immediately. He’ll back up center and guard. Darin Gooch also returns at guard, and Marcus Jackson is available, but tackle depth is a mess. Little-used junior Carson Anderson will backup one side, while Marques Pair and Antonio Richardson, both freshmen, handle the other. Like last year, the can ill afford any injuries.

 

DEFENSE

 

Despite having a Nick Saban pedigree, Dooley favors the 4-3 defense. Depth is an issue in all three defensive units, however, and injuries have combined to weaken things further. Tennessee was badly mediocre in all categories in 2010, and spent the spring trying to identify playmakers. Unfortunately, what the Vols are left with is a collection of journeymen and overachievers that will have to play far above their heads.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE (rating: Av, 4th SEC East, 7th overall)

Aside from tackle , who is a superb player, there’s just not much here. Daniel Hood and JUCO transfer Maurice Couch will split the other tackle position, while Jacques Smith and Willie Bohannon will serve as the starting defensive ends. Both Smith and Bohannon are on the small side, however, and may have trouble with a straight-ahead running game. Ben Martin, Marlon Walls, Steven Fowlkes and true freshman Jordan Williams will back up Smith and Bohannon. Corey Miller and Joseph Ayres are available at tackle. The presence of Jackson elevates the entire group, but overall this unit is thin compared to its competitors.

 

LINEBACKERS (rating: Fr, 6th SEC East, 10th overall)

An already iffy group got a lot more so with an injury to Herman Lathers, which will rob most of his season. With Lathers out, the starting trio of Daryl Vereen, Austin Johnson and Greg King better be ready to play entire games. The backups are lunchpail sophomores Raiques Crump and John Propst and a true freshman, Curt Maggitt, who could challenge Vereen or King for a starting role until Lathers gets back. Another true freshman, A.J. Johnson, will be in the mix. He has better size than Maggitt but isn’t as quick, or as developed. Another signee, Christian Harris, could see the field. This is a rather motley group that will have to learn on the job.

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS (rating: Av, 4th SEC East, 7th overall)

This unit was ranked before the upteenth suspension of safety Janzen Jackson, this time likely for good. Without Jackson, the UT backfield spirals downward quite a bit. Cornerback Prentiss Waggner will move to free safety to cover for Jackson, while Brent Brewer returns at strong safety. Marsalis Teague and either JUCO transfer Izauea Lanier or freshman Justin Coleman will start on the other side. Look for opposing offenses to pick on that duo mercilessly. Byron Moore and Eric Gordon are also available to provide depth at corner, while Dontavis Sapp and Rod Wilks are the reserve safeties. Athleticism is a question mark among some of this group; effectiveness is a question for all.

 

SPECIAL TEAM (rating: Fr, 5th SEC East, 10th overall)

Placekicker Michael Palardy has game experience from 2010 during the worst of Daniel Lincoln’s struggles. He’s accurate from shorter distances but needs to improve his leg strength. New punter Matt Darr has as strong a leg as any, but tends to spray the ball. Kickoff and punt returns both need an infusion of talent. Da’Rick Rogers and Raijon Neal figure to handle kickoffs, while Anthony Anderson or freshman Devrin Young could be the punt returner. Tennessee could also use some help on the coverage units.

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