Whereas the 2005 Vols saw each play as a step toward scoring, the 2006 Vols will view each play as a potential score in itself.
“When we had our best offensive teams our goal was to score on every play,” head coach Phil Fulmer says. “We’ll do whatever we need to do to score points. We’ve just got to find out what we do best.”
That should be an interesting search. The Vols have one proven running back (Arian Foster) and two great prospects (Montario Hardesty, LaMarcus Coker) but all three will miss spring ball due to injuries.
“Running back is obviously a challenge this spring because three of the top guys are out,” Fulmer concedes. “I do think in the long run they’ll be fine and ready to go. But this spring Ja’Kouri Williams, David Yancey and (converted defensive back) Ricardo Kemp will be out there trying to find their niche as running backs.”
The shortage of top tailbacks is magnified by the loss of some key players in the offensive line – 2005 starters Cody Douglas, Albert Toeaina and Rob Smith, along with parttime starter Richie Gandy.
“With the offensive front, there are some real challenges there,” Fulmer notes. “Guys who have played, like Arron Sears and David Ligon, have got to take a significant leadership role on this team. And youngsters like Anthony Parker, Ramon Foster and Steven Jones, Chris Scott, Michael Frogg and Malcom Rawls have got to step up.”
As with the taiback position, center is missing some top performers. Josh McNeil and Cameron Mayo will miss spring drills due to injuries.
“Unfortunately, we’re not going to have McNeil and Mayo out there 100 percent,” Fulmer says, “but in the fall I expect those guys to be significant contributors to our football team.”
Tennessee has all of its top wideouts available this spring, so competition at that position should be interesting.
“Wide receiver last year was obviously a disappointment to us,” Fulmer notes. “Those guys are working a lot of extra hours to get themselves ready.
“I think Bret Smith, Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain are guys that certainly should be counted on to be big-time SEC receivers. We’re going to be looking for those guys to make those kinds of plays.
“And I’m really encouraged about Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe and Austin Rogers – what they have shown as freshmen and in the off-season. I’m anxious to see Slick Shelley and Bill Grimes, and see where they’re going to fit in the mix.”
Chris Brown returns at tight end after catching 14 balls last fall. Still, he’s the only tight end on the roster who has caught a pass at the collegiate level.
“Chris Brown is a good player,” Fulmer says, “but he can take another step to be the best he can be. I’m anxious to see what Brad Cottam and Jeff Cottam really are all about.
“They will be challenged this spring to put themselves in the mix or to see if those young freshmen coming in (Lee Smith, Like Stocker) are going to have to move up in the playing rotation.”