One of the beauties of SEC Media Days and being able to concentrate on one school is hearing the barrage of questions the head coach and the trio of players at his side are faced with in Hoover, which gives an idea as to what the public perception of that particular school is presently.
Most especially in the Print/Media Room, the majority of those asking questions cover other programs and don't know much past general knowledge of other schools that man the podiums.
As you may have seen in one of the interviews InsideTennessee did with a Gainesville-based reporter, the first question she had on her mind was the perhaps not-so-imaginary "hot seat" that head guy Derek Dooley is squatting on. Tyler Bray, Ja'Wuan James and Herman Lathers were all faced with similar questions.
"Why should we think 2012 will be terribly different from the last four seasons? Where's the proof? Why will this team be any different?"
They are all questions that deserve an answer. James more than the other two seemed confident the ship is on the right course: "We know what we're capable of."
One guy fired question after question at the offensive tackle wanting to know how or why Tennessee will be what it was. Other schools are grinding as well. They don't take the summers off to let the Vols catch up. Their facilities aren't a bunch of cinder blocks or something like what Rocky had to train with in Russia.
I put "capable" in the same boat as the word "potential" or the phrase "on paper."
True, that installation of confidence from the return of Bray as quarterback, Lathers as leader of the defense and wide receiver Justin Hunter is there. But, Bray is yet to even play a 12-game season and has cried at least twice on the sideline on national television. Fans expect Hunter to have an All-American type season when the kid isn't even 12 months removed from a torn knee ligament. Then, Lathers looks to be the heart and soul of the defense but the poor guy has been through heck and back (5-6 surgeries in college, bone cancer as a child, three head coaches).
I'm not writing this to be a Debbie Downer. I just want some answers from those that have their orange hearts resting on open palms, primed for breaking. Rare is it schools go from 5-7 to 10-2.
Yes, the schedule is somewhat less daunting and for the first time since leaving the Bayou, Dooley has nearly 85 scholarship players to motivate through competition in practice and pluck from should injuries take place or suspensions be warranted.
The new facility expansion should be fancy, quite the recruiting tool and help in the long run, but it's not going to turn Justin Meredith into the Incredible Hulk and make people forget all about departed behemoth tight end Cameron Clear.
So many question marks still exist.
When an opposing wide receiver trots into the locker room at the half with six catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns, who is Derrick Ansley going to point to and say, "OK, he's yours. Shut him down. We'll take care of the rest?"
Incoming JUCO All-American Cordarrelle Patterson has lofty expectations placed upon him already even though he hasn't taken a snap on the university level. In the Jayhawk Community College Conference, schools aren't allowed more than a dozen or so players on their respective rosters from beyond the borders of Kansas, which is a state that puts out about 10-20 DI football players annually. Beating corners in the JCCC is not the same as running past Bacarri Rambo or surviving a hit from Eric Reid.
Several years ago fans saw first hand how electric a punter can be as Dustin Colquitt consistently flipped the field on foes and pinned offenses in the shadow of their own goal posts. Can Michael Palardy or Matt Darr be that guy or is 37.8 yards going to be the norm again?
When the defensive backs do their job, who is going to push the pocket or come off the edge and give the quarterback less than 2 seconds to get rid of the football? Sal Sunseri can't scheme up something elaborate every third down all season long.
If Tennessee enters the fourth quarter up two scores in Columbia or Starkville, who's the horse in the backfield that's going to make people miss, move the pile and pick up first downs to keep the clock rolling and keep the ball out of the home team's hands? Along those lines, do UT fans really expect this O-line to go from being the worst run blocking unit this century to netting 4-plus yards a carry on average?
|The Tennessee loss to Kentucky was as bad a way to enter an offseason as the Vols have had in some time.|
If the Vols are down 21-7 with 60 seconds remaining in the half and Bray hits on a couple passes to get the line of scrimmage to the opposing 35 with time enough for one play, is there a guy Dooley can put on the field to get three points and get a little momentum/confidence going into the break?
In my mind, the most glaring question mark is simple: Do you know how to win Southeastern Conference football games?
Talent. First-round potential. Experience. Eighteen starters back. Over two dozen juniors.
All that is fine and dandy and it helps optimism and should sell some tickets at least through September, but show me you know how to (figuratively) cut the throat of the guy trying to steal your dreams and keep your life an orange glaze of embarrassment. Walk up to the joker that just called your mother a worthless excuse for his oxygen consumption, stare him in the eye and calmly snap his neck with your bare hands. THAT's the mentality you want from a team looking to exact pain on its foe and hang an SEC banner back at the house.
If I'm Lathers, Ben Bartholomew, Willie Bohannon, Steven Fowlkes, Prentiss Waggner, Carson Anderson, Dallas Thomas or Rod Wilks (guys that Phillip Fulmer signed), I'm not walking off The Hill as five-year guys that never beat Alabama or Florida. I'm going to knock heads and get in some butts all week long and nearly be a hated teammate come Saturday. But, I'm going to mentally and physically will my brothers past a barrier so that I can restore some pride in my university, my family, my teammates over the years and myself.
Now, what say you? Don't try to personally attack the messenger. Come strong. Give your fellow Vol fans reason to believe. Explain to me why Tennessee is going to win you all these football games this fall.
Let us know why you're so optimistic, give us your thoughts in our premium message board VolChat or on our free forum the Rocky Top Board.