Where to start when it comes to the current happenings of the Tennessee Volunteers? While the heartbreak of Lane Kiffin abandoning ship is mending, most have found comfort in USC’s recent pounding from the NCAA. As for the football program, the second rebuilding in as many years has begun under the new head coach Derek Dooley. The former Louisiana Tech coach will have his hands full building a squad out of remnants from last year’s team, but with the young talent he will have to work with, he will definitely be building a foundation for the future.
His largest issue to tackle is how to replace his starting quarterback, running back, and all of the starters on the offensive line from a year ago. In fact, the Volunteers will only have four returning starters on offense: running back Tauren Poole, wide receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, and tight end Luke Stocker. While the offensive line and quarterback will be brand new, whoever takes the helm will find some comfort with knowing he has some returning skill players.
Just who will be under center is a big question coming out of spring. The position battle will be between Matt Simms and Tyler Bray. Both had an impressive spring and showed in the Tennessee spring game that they wanted the starting job. Which one we will see this fall has still not been decided and may not have an answer in the first few games of the season. The one job not up for discussion is at the running back position. Poole has solidified himself as the number one guy and showed he could handle the bulk of the carries and has the explosiveness to make some big plays.
The biggest hill to climb for the Tennessee offense will be replacing all five starters on the offensive line. The Vols will have to rely on some freshmen at some key positions and that usually equals tough times in the SEC with the skill of defensive linemen in the conference. The line will have some struggles this season protecting the quarterback and opening up holes for Poole, but will look to build on the game experience for the coming years.
On defense the Vols will have more returning starters, but it will have to replace possibly the best defensive player to come through the college ranks in safety Eric Berry. They will return two starters on the defensive line in tackle Montori Hughes and end Chris Walker who led the team in sacks last season with six. At linebacker, they return Nick Reveiz who will anchor the unit. As for the secondary, they have some good talent in safety Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles Jr., but will still have troubles filling the void left by Berry. There is also some good talent at the cornerback position, but as a unit we will have to see how they play together without the leadership of Berry.
When the Tide takes the field in Knoxville this year, they should definitely have the upper hand on both sides of the ball with the level of talent the Tide has. While we know the Tide’s defense will be new, they will still have less to worry about than the Tennessee offense. The defensive line will wreak havoc on the young Vol line and should create some big problems for whoever is under center. On offense, the Tide should be able to move the ball and put points on the board, and with Eric Berry not on the field, Julio Jones, and the other Tide receivers should have a lot of room to operate.