Halfway home: offense

Tauren Poole

With six of Tennessee's 12 regular-season games in the books, this is a good time for a position-by-position evaluation of what the offense accomplished during the first half of the season:

QUARTERBACK: Tyler Bray was passing at an All-America level in Games 1-4 before struggling a bit and getting injured in a 20-12 Game 5 loss to Georgia. His numbers — a 65.9 completion percentage, 315.8 passing yards per contest, 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions — were incredible when he suffered a fractured right thumb vs. the Dawgs. Senior backup Matt Simms played very well in finishing off a late touchdown drive versus Georgia but played poorly in his first start of the year, completing just 6 of 20 passes for 128 yards with two interceptions last weekend versus LSU. He deserves the benefit of the doubt since he was starting for the first time in nearly a year and facing one of the NCAA's premier defenses but his play must improve dramatically if the Vols are to finish with a flourish. POSITION GRADE: A (due to Bray's sizzling start)

TAILBACK: Senior starter Tauren Poole and freshman backup Marlin Lane looked reasonably good against the likes of Montana, Cincinnati and Buffalo but seemed tentative against SEC foes Florida and Georgia. Oddly enough, both showed some spark in a Game 6 loss to LSU, which boasts the stoutest defense the Vols have faced to date. Poole is averaging a pedestrian 4.1 yards per carry overall and 2.7 in SEC games. Lane is averaging 3.2 per carry overall but has been exceptional as a receiver out of the backfield, recording 12 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Rajion Neal shows some potential as a ball-carrier but has fumbled on four of his 11 attempts. A player to watch is undersized freshman Devrin Young, who has just 1 net yard on three carries but took a shovel pass 21 yards versus LSU last weekend. POSITION GRADE: C-minus

RECEIVER: Justin Hunter appeared unstoppable and headed for an All-America season when he suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter of Game 3 at Florida. Da' Rick Rogers has stepped into the go-to role and done quite well (35 receptions, 16.5 yards-per-catch average, 6 touchdowns) despite being a marked man. Freshman DeAnthony Arnett has shown flashes. So has the afore-mentioned Neal, who is averaging 26 yards per catch on two receptions.

Wide receiver Justin Hunter was well on his way to an All-American season when he tore his ACL against Florida.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

Junior Zach Rogers has struggled to catch the ball, however, while Matt Milton and Vincent Dallas have struggled to get on the field. Hunter's loss is made even more devastating by the fact no one is stepping up to take any pressure off of Da'Rick Rogers. POSITION GRADE: C

TIGHT END: One of the most pleasant surprises to date has been the play of junior Mychal Rivera. Though held without a catch in Game 6 versus LSU, the 6-4, 255-pounder boasts 19 receptions and a sparkling 13.1 yards-per-catch average thus far. Freshman backups Brendan Downs (3 catches, 34 yards) and Cameron Clear are feeling their way along. POSITION GRADE: B

OFFENSIVE LINE: These guys took a lot of heat for Tennessee's woeful rushing efforts versus Florida (minus-9 yards) and Georgia (minus-20 yards). Matt Simms' knack for getting the Vols in the right run to the right spot enabled the Vols to rush for 111 net yards in Game 6 versus LSU, however, which suggests that some of the blame directed at the blockers was misplaced. Center James Stone struggled so much with shotgun snaps versus SEC foes that he changed places with left guard Alex Bullard this week. The pass protection (10 sacks) has been outstanding, considering that Tennessee has two relatively immobile QBs who have thrown the ball a whopping 205 times through the first six games. POSITION GRADE: C

Next time: A position-by-position evaluation of where Tennessee's defense stands through six games.

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