The future is bright at Tennessee. While a lot of football fans are writing this season off to a rebuilding process, it appears that this Volunteer football team is unaware of it. It’s that attitude and the multitude of young talent on the Tennessee offense that has a good chance to prove that first statement a fact instead of fiction.
It’s easy to think that the Vols will be at the bottom of the SEC East, considering the fact that they will introduce their third head coach to Neyland Stadium in the last three years and especially since this is the second straight season a new head coach will grace the
sidelines in Orange and White.
Attrition has taken its toll on the Vols, as Tennessee only returns 72 scholarship players to battle the rest of the SEC giants, which for the most part have their full allotment of 85 players to choose from this season.
Some might ask why this makes a difference, and it only takes one look at the Tennessee roster to figure out the answer.
It’s the lack of depth.
It’s the lack of experience on the offensive line. It is having no quarterback on your roster that has taken a snap in SEC play. It’s also having two true freshmen as possible backups.
You also have to consider the fact that the Vols have no running back that has seen action in conference play. You lose senior Montario Hardesty to the NFL and the previous year’s No. 1 overall prospect in the country to a transfer to Kansas State, leaving some talented but unproven running backs in the backfield.
By now you are wondering why I started out this story saying the future is bright at Tennessee. Yes I did, and here are some of the key reasons why.
The one position that has a lot of depth and experience is the wide receiver unit.
Seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore lead the way, followed closely by perhaps the most talented trio tandem of true freshmen in the country.
Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers and Matt Milton give Vol fans three great reasons to be smiling this fall.
Hunter showed Saturday night that he can be depended on early. He finished his first full scrimmage with over 120 total yards and a touchdown, as he scored from 65 yards out.
The wide receivers aren’t the only bright spots on this young but talented team.
When asked earlier this summer if there were some players on his team that could be surprises this fall for the Vols, the UT first year head coach responded quickly.
“There better be,” Dooley said. “We have a lot of young talent on this team. We have to have a lot of them step and surprise a lot of us.”
The wide receiver unit isn’t the only reason for optimism.
While everyone is pointing to the Vol offensive line as a weak link for Tennessee this fall, it may end up being bigger, stronger and faster than last year’s group that led another first year UT head coach to a bowl game and a 7-6 record.
The key issue with this offensive line isn’t the lack of experience but the lack of depth.
“We have a lot of talented guys on the first team offensive line,” Dooley said. “Get past the first unit and that’s where the concern kicks in.”
Junior running back Tauren Poole also gives the Vols reasons to smile. Many media members thought Poole was the most talented back behind Hardesty last fall. The previous coaching staff apparently made promises to its No. 1 recruit.
Poole is now hungry and ready to prove that this will be his opportunity to have a breakout season. True sophomore tailback David Oku and redshirt freshman Toney Williams also expect to contribute this fall. True freshman Rajion Neal looks the part physically but will have to learn the offense in a hurry. He could contribute on special teams early.
The most experienced player on the Vols offense is senior tight end Luke Stocker. The talented pass catcher decided to forgo the opportunity to enter the NFL draft early after he heard about Dooley’s fondness for tight ends in his multiple, pro style offense.
Stocker gives the Tennessee quarterback, whoever that might be, a very reliable target and consistent hands for passes. He acknowledged earlier this fall that he is bigger, stronger and faster than last year and that definitely should cause Dooley and Vols fans to smile a lot.
Now it’s time to figure out who will be the Vols’ signal caller.
Will it be Matt Simms, a junior college transfer, who started out his career at Louisville or will it be true freshman Tyler Bray?
According to Dooley, it’s Simms work ethic and the little things that has put the junior ahead of the true freshman.
“There is no one on our team that has worked harder on and off the field to improve their game this spring and summer than Simms has,” Dooley said earlier. “He has a great command of the offense and he does the little things right.”
Dooley hit the nail on the head – it appears that it’s the intangibles, the little things that puts the older, more experienced player ahead in the quarterback race.
Does Simms have the talent to be the answer for the Vols this fall?
He had one of the most impressive performances at the Manning Passing Academy this summer, earning rave reviews from several college experts.
Now that this is over, hopefully you can see why the future is bright at Tennessee. It may be a longer process than some would like, but it might just end up happening faster than most expect it to.
Young talent is better than having no talent at all.