Derek Dooley is referring to this season as “year one” of his time at UT with last year being “year zero” due to all the chaos surrounding the program. Tennessee fans are a lot more optimistic going into the season this year than last, as they should be. Many people are predicting an appearance in the SEC Championship for the Vols as the Eastern Division champions.
Today, we will be explaining the Vols improvement by breaking down the offense.
This is a position that has Vol fans excited. Last year, after now senior Matt Simms took his lumps against the meat of UT’s schedule, heralded true freshmen Tyler Bray got the final five starts of the season. Bray won the final four games of the season in impressive fashion while making several big plays in the passing game. Bray also played fairly well in his toughest test, the Music City Bowl against North Carolina, until throwing an interception in the second overtime.
The word out of summer camp is that Tyler Bray has dedicated himself to learning to the playbook, studying film, and all the other nuances that make up a good quarterback. It is also said that the lanky sophomore has put on about 15 pounds.
Backing up Bray will be senior Matt Simms. Matt played well in the spring game and still believes he has a chance to upset Bray for the starting job in fall camp. Even if he doesn’t, he is a very capable backup and is one big hit away from being the starting QB again. It’s good for Tennessee that he has remained committed to the team. Rounding out the position are Doak Raulston and freshmen Justin Worley. Worley, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, is expected to redshirt.
Last year’s starter, senior Tauren Poole, returns after a 1,000 yard season as a junior. Poole is expected to carry the load again. While Poole won’t be confused with Trent Richardson or Marcus Lattimore anytime soon, he is a solid back who runs hard and had some big breakaway runs last year.
Behind Poole will be sophomore Rajion Neal who is a threat catching passes out of the backfield and showed some big play potential as a freshman. However, it is unclear whether or not he can handle the load in between the tackles in the event of a Poole injury.
UT does have a big back on the roster in sophomore Toney Williams (6'0" 220 pounds). Williams was impressive in the spring game, but he has yet to make an impact in a game since arriving at UT. I expect that to change this season, especially in goal line situations.
The position is rounded out by incoming freshmen Tom Smith and Marlin Lane, both hailing from the state of Florida. Some people in the know have been raving about the 4-star prospect, Lane, in UT’s off season workout program, some even comparing him to former UT back, Jamal Lewis. Sophomore Channing Fugate returns as the starting fullback. Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney hopes to use him as a weapon out of the backfield as well.
This is the position that has UT fans giddy about next season, mostly because of freak athlete Justin Hunter (6’4" 200 pounds) who reeled in seven touchdowns as a true freshmen last year. Hunter is joined by fellow sophomore and former 5-star prospect Da’Rick Rogers (6’3" 215 pounds). Rogers has NFL ready measurables already (height, speed, strength etc.), and depending on how much he has matured this offseason as an individual and route runner, he could join Hunter as a potential All-SEC player this Fall.
Nashville native junior Zach Rogers joins Da’Rick and Justin as the other expected starter. The wild card of this position is sophomore Matt Milton (6’5" 210 pounds). Milton, a former high school quarterback, has had some trouble with the transition to wide receiver, but he has the raw talent to be a special player for the Vols as well.
Rounding out the depth chart are freshmen Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett. Both will have an opportunity to break into the rotation during upcoming fall camp.
This is the position that will be the most improved for the Vols this year. The group of true freshmen that took its lumps last year for the Vols now has a year of SEC experience and a year of college strength and conditioning under their belts.
Ju'Wuan James, Zach Fulton and James Stone, who all started as true freshmen last year, will be markedly improved. The O-Line is also bolstered by Nashville native and Notre Dame transfer, Alex Bullard. Bullard was named the surprise of spring practice by the coaching staff and is expected to start as well this fall. Right now, Bullard is slotted at center with the left-handed Stone moving from center to left guard.
Junior Dallas Thomas rounds out the starters at left tackle. Thomas was limited at times last season due to injury but at 100 percent, he is a solid SEC tackle. This offensive line has the potential to be really special this year and next year by being the biggest line UT has had in recent memory.
From left to right, it will be Dallas Thomas (6'5" 305 pounds), James Stone (6'3" 308 pounds), Alex Bullard (6'2" 309 pounds), Zack Fulton (6'5" 330 pounds) and Ja’Wuan James (6'6" 324 pounds). The classic o-line set up of a bigger, power, right side of the line. I expect a lot of carries for Poole and co. to the right side.
This line will also be much deeper than years past. Freshmen Marcus Jackson and Antonio Richardson will push for playing time as well as sophomore guard JerQuari Schofield.