2011 Tennessee Preview – Offense
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray & RB Tauren Poole
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Tennessee Volunteer Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: 2010 was the textbook definition of a rebuilding season for the offense, and to further the clichés, it was the proverbial step back to take a giant leap forward. The passing game put up yards, but there were too many mistakes, and RB Tauren Poole was fantastic, but the ground game struggled. The Vol attack will be unstoppable in 2012 – Poole is the only senior projected starter - and it could be far, far better this year mostly because the line could be awesome. The freshmen who were thrown to the wolves last year can actually play, and now there are four really strong, really good sophomore starters and a nice junior left tackle in Dallas Thomas to form a better more consistent blocking unit. QB Tyler Bray has the moxie and the arm to be a special passer, and he has excellent explosive threats to work with. Poole won't get the press of other SEC running backs, but he's among the league's most effective runner.
Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Tyler Bray
Passing: Tyler Bray
125-224, 1,849 yds, 18 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Tauren Poole
204 carries, 1,034 yds, 11 TD
Receiving: Tauren Poole
22 catches, 171 yds, 1 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore WR Justin Hunter
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman OG Marcus Jackson
Best pro prospect: Sophomore OG JerQuari Schofield
Top three all-star candidates: 1) RB Tauren Poole, 2) WR Justin Hunter, 3) C James Stone
Strength of the offense: Youthful Talent, Skill Talent
Weakness of the offense: Proven Blocking, Interceptions
State of the Unit: The quarterback situation was up in the air going into last year after the rocky era of Jonathan Crompton came to an end. Now the position that's been an issue over the last few years has the potential to become a major plus with a clear pecking order for a passing game that finished 30th in the nation in yards and 41st in efficiency with the two options, both returning, combining to complete 57% of their passes for 3,309 yards and 26 touchdowns and 15 picks.
Sophomore Tyler Bray got to the team at the end of the 2009 season before the bowl game and had the entire offseason and spring ball to get ready, and after a half a year, the starting quarterback job became his for the next three-plus years. The 6-6, 210-pounder threw his share of picks, with seven in the final three games including three in the bowl loss to North Carolina, but he also showed off his incredible arm and his gunslinger mentality with a 354-yard day against Kentucky and a 312-yard, four score performance against the Tar Heels. He's not going to run and he has to be more consistent after completing 56% of his passes for 1,849 yards and 18 touchdowns with ten picks, with almost all his work coming over the second half of the season, but he has the size, the arm, and the confidence to be the franchise.
It's not like senior Matt Simms was bad, but he didn't provide the spark or show the upside that Bray did. The son of former NFL star, Phil Simms, completed 58% of his throws for 1,460 yards and eight scores with five picks, but the offense wasn't moving when he was under center. He threw for 259 yards and two scores in the loss to Florida, and he threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns against UAB, but he only threw two touchdown passes over the ensuing five games. Extremely likeable and a natural leader, he has the perfect makeup for a No. 2 quarterback, and he has the experience from his time under center last year and with his time at El Camino CC to be ready to step in if Bray struggles or gets hurt.
Fighting to be Bray's main backup in 2012 will be freshman Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nash Nance, two quarterbacks who fit the Volunteer mold. The 6-4, 200-pound Worley was a nice recruit after earning the Gatorade National Player of the Year honor after throwing for 13,385 yards and 157 scores as a high schooler. He's a smart, strong passer with excellent upside, while the 6-3, 208-pound Nance has a bit more rushing ability than the rest of the quarterback options. He was a high school hurdler and has a nice, accurate arm.
Watch Out For … Bray to be one of the SEC's big storylines. While South Carolina's Stephen Garcia will get most of the attention because of his shenanigans, the LSU, Alabama, and Auburn quarterback situations will be front and center, and all eyes will be on Florida to see how John Brantley does with the new coaching staff. Bray might be the best of the lot. He was awful at times this spring, but he has the talent and the ability to be a 300-yard day walking out of the tunnel.
Strength: Big passers. It's Tennessee. If you're not 6-3, 210 pounds, and with a strong, accurate rifle, you need not apply. Bray has all the tools, Simms is a fine fill-in if needed, and there are a slew of interesting prospects waiting in the wings in case disaster strikes.
Weakness: Interceptions. Bray was still getting his feet wet, so his ten picks are somewhat forgivable, but he also forced things trusting his arm way too much. He has to keep the mistakes to a minimum.
Outlook: After years of problems with Jonathan Crompton at the helm, the passing game started to work. Simms is fine, and Worley has the skills to push for time right away. The quarterbacks know what they're doing and the coaching staff will open up the playbook a bit more, but it'll take a little time to shine with most of the star targets needing to be replaced.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: The overall rushing stats look worse than the production really was. The Volunteers didn't rock on the ground, running for just 1,863 yards with 14 scores, finishing last in the SEC and 105th in the country, but that's because so many sacks were thrown into the equation. UT ended up netting 1,420 yards and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, but there's more than enough talent returning, and defenses won't be able to tee off thanks to an improved passing game, to hope for more production.
With South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Alabama's Mark Ingram, and Arkansas' Knile Davis, not to mention Cam Newton, having big rushing seasons, senior Tauren Poole went unnoticed. The 5-10, 210-pounder was one of the league's most effective rushers, though, averaging 5.1 yards per carry running for 1,034 yards with 11 touchdowns, and he caught 14 passes for 207 yards and a score. Tough and productive, eh came up with six 100-yard running games including 162 yards against Oregon and 117 against Alabama, and he came up with a 99-yarder against Vanderbilt. Kept under wraps by the old regime, he showed what he could do once he got the ball in his hands on a regular basis showing off terrific speed and good enough power to get through the interior on his own. The former two-time Georgia high school player of the year has plenty of tread on the tires, and he should be a lock for 1,000 yards if he gets 200+ carries again.
Sophomore Rajion Nealwas the Georgia Player of the Year two seasons ago leading Sandy Creek to the AAAA state title. Very slippery for his size and with great pop between the tackles, he has the toughness to be a workhorse and the raw speed to crank out big plays. He worked his way through the pack to finish second on the team with 197 yards, and while he only got 46 carries, to go along with seven catches for 100 yards, he appears ready to more. The 58-yard pass play against Georgia showed a glimpse of what he can do.
With one-time star prospect David Oku leaving, there's an open spot for a No. 3 option. Redshirt freshman Dorian Cozart is a smallish, quick 5-7, 196-pound option who can cut on a dime, and 5-9, 199-pound redshirt freshman Deanthoine Summerhill has the upside to be a dangerous option if he can get into a lather. Both backs can fly and both should be able to produce in garbage time this year with an eye towards next season.
The Vols want to use the fullback spot for more than just show, and 6-1, 245-pound sophomore Channing Fugate will blast away for the ground game. After seeing a little time as a true freshman, he stepped in and became a key starter late in the year as a top blocker. He caught two passes for 21 yards, but he didn't get any carries. He'll be backed up by junior Ben Bartholomew, who's part tight end, part fullback. A great blocker, he'll be used in a variety of ways.
Watch Out For … Neal to get more work. Poole was the running game, getting 204 of the team's 408 carries. While he's tough and can handle the load, the more help from the backups, the better. Neal is good enough to tear off good yards when he gets his chances.
Strength: Poole. He only earned Honorable Mention All-SEC honors last year, but considering the problems on the line, and without the consistent passing game early on to take the heat off, Poole was able to do what he could. QB Tyler Bray is the team's signature offensive star going into the year, but Poole will be the steadying force.
Weakness: Proven backups. Neal is a great-looking prospect, but he only ran the ball 46 times. Oku got 42 carries. No other running back got more than a few carries.
Outlook: After years of loading up on top-shelf running back recruits – Bryce Brown, anyone? – now it's Poole and hope for the best. Fortunately, the Vols have a terrific back to work the offense around, but it'll be vital to get Neal and others more involved right away.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The Vols lost their top three receivers from last year – Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore, and TE Luke Stocker – and the fourth leading target was RB Tauren Poole, and they should be fine. It's Tennessee, so there are plenty of good talents and there's explosion to get excited about. It'll be tough to replace Moore's 20.9-yard average and nine scores, and Jones was ultra-reliable, but the Vols should get improved quarterback play from a more mature Tyler Bray and they should get plenty of production with the new starters getting more time to shine.
The new star of the receiving show should be Da'Rick Rogers, a 6-3, 215-pound sophomore who showed flashes with 16 catches for 167 yards and two scores, while also getting 16 carries for 117 yards. He's big, fast, and acrobatic, taking to the spotlight this spring and showing he's ready to explode. The star of last year's recruiting class after setting the Georgia state record for a season with 1,641 yards and 22 touchdowns, and now he should use his next-level tools to be a matchup nightmare.
6-4, 191-pound sophomore Justin Hunter might not be the No. 1 target is Rogers blossoms as expected, but he'll hit the home runs. The speedster set the Tennessee freshman record with seven touchdown passes averaging a whopping 25.9 yards per grab on just 16 catches. He hit Ole Miss for two scores and 114 yards on three grabs, and caught four passes for 110 yards and a touchdown against Georgia, but mostly he spent his time destroying single coverage for a big play every once in a while. A phenomenal athlete, he has elite leaping skills, winning the 2010 USA Outdoor Championships with the long jump, and he was also a star sprinter. He'll work in a rotation with Vincent Dallas, a 5-11, 185-pound freshman who got to school early and showed enough to become a key part of the passing game right away. A star sprinter in high school, he has the wheels to go along with the toughness to work in a variety of ways.
Also in the equation will be 6-0, 175-pound junior Zach Rogers after catching 11 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 15.2 yards per grab. Extremely quick and always dangerous whenever he gets the ball on the move, he can work as a dangerous No. 3 receiver and can get the ball as a runner once in a while.
Can DeAnthony Arnett step in and produce right away? Scout.com's No. 8 ranked receiver slipped away from Michigan and Michigan State, and the 6-0, 175-pound Saginaw native has the potential to be used as a runner as well as a receiver. Tough, he could end up moving over to the secondary if needed.
Luke Stocker was a good, reliable tight end catching 39 passes, but junior Mychal Rivera could turn out to be just as fine. Stocker was good at a little bit of everything, and he'll have a decent NFL career, but Rivera caught 11 passes for 112 yards, working mostly in blowouts, and is ready to carve out a big role in the passing game. A 6-3, 254-pound former JUCO transfer from College of the Canyons, after originally signing on with Oregon, he has good hands and can hit. Also seeing time in the tight end mix is 6-5, 237-pound freshman Brendan Downs, a big wide receiver-type with offensive lineman weight room strength. He has great all-around skills and showed he's ready to contribute right away after coming to school early.
Watch Out For … Rogers. Hunter is the splashiest of the returning receivers after his terrific first season, but Rogers has the all-around game to become a go-to target who'll make opposing defenses worry. It's all there to become an SEC star.
Strength: Talent. Few places could lose fringe NFL talents like Moore and Jones and possibly be better. Rogers and Hunter aren't household names, but with the emergence of QB Tyler Bray, there will be lots and lots of home runs and highlights.
Weakness: A sure-thing No. 3. For all the promise and potential of Da'Rick Rogers and Hunter, they only combined to catch 27 passes. Zach Rogers has good upside and Dallas looks like a keeper, but it might take a little while for the ball to be spread around.
Outlook: The passing game will be more than fine despite losing the top three targets who made 141 of the team's 238 catches. It might take a little bit for everything to get in sync, but Hunter and Rogers have elite skills, and the tight end combination of Rivera and Downs will make up for the loss of Stocker.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The line, and the quarterbacks, took a ton of lumps last season as true freshmen and other untested players were thrown to the wolves right away. As bad as things were at times, there were signs of life at times and the front five appears ready to be far, far better after a strong offseason. After finishing 115th in the nation in sacks allowed and failing to pave the way for regular rushing yards, the production of the line will be far better.
One a line full of underclassmen, junior Dallas Thomas qualifies as the grandpa of the group. The 6-5, 301-pound left tackle has the experience to go along with his decent athleticism. He started all 13 games last year and two years of experience under his belt, and while he needs to improve his consistency as a pass protector, he has the strength and the ability to qualify as an anchor. More than anything else, he has to keep Tyler Bray upright by protecting his backside.
Back on the other side at right tackle is sophomore Ja'Wuan James, a big, talented player who struggled throughout last year but has the upside to be a star. At 6-6 and 324 pounds he has the size and the drive to make himself into a top player, and he's great at finishing off his blocks when he gets his mitts on a defender. He earned freshman all-star honors, and he appears ready to be far more consistent.
There's good potential and upside at tackle, but the best battle and the top all-star skill talent could be at left guard where sophomore JerQuari Schofield and freshman Marcus Jackson look really, really good. The 6-6, 333-pound Schofield started five games, but he missed half the year with a foot injury. With the athleticism to go along with his size, he has all the skills and all the tools to be an all-star blaster of a blocker, but the 6-2, 326-pound Jackson might be better. The Florida native was one of the team's top recruits, and he showed why this offseason looking the part of a Next Big Thing. He's ready to start in the SEC right now and will be truly special with a little more time in the Tennessee weight room.
Manning the middle after taking over late last year is sophomore James Stone, a big 6-3, 308-pound run blocker who has the toughness to work at guard, starting three times as a left guard before moving inside, and the smarts to handle being the quarterback up front. He could be moved around if absolutely needed, but he's a center and he'll be the foundation for the next three years. First, though, he has to learn how to snap the ball with his right hand after getting the ball to the quarterback with his left hand. He's working on it. Backing him up is Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard, a 6-3, 309-pounder who was expected to spend this year as a backup, caught a break, and is eligible now.
6-5, 330-pound sophomore Zach Fulton took over the starting right guard job over the second half of the year when Jarrod Shaw moved over to left guard, finishing with five starts as a true freshman despite missing time with an ankle injury. With his size and maturity on the field, he should be a rock over the next three years. The brother of Tampa Bay lineman Xavier Fulton, Zach is a good pass blocker, good for the ground game, and a potential star. He'll be backed up by 6-3, 301-pound junior Darin Gooch, a versatile veteran who started six times last year at center but will stick at guard. The former JUCO transfer is a tough blocker who's great for the ground game.
Watch Out For … Jackson. It's not like the line needs to get any younger, even with all the returning experience, but Jackson might be too good to keep off the field. Schofield might also be too good to keep out of the left guard spot.
Strength: Potential greatness. The Vols went with a young line to get everyone jelled as quickly as possible, and the move should work. There were a ton of mistakes and a slew of problems last year, but the talent returning is undeniably great. The starting five should be terrific.
Weakness: Proven blocking. The improvement started to come late in the year once the right combination was right combination was settled on, but overall the blocking was bad allowing a whopping 41 sacks and not doing enough for the ground game.
Outlook: This is how you do it. Instead of trying to patch things together, the Volunteer coaching staff blew up the ship and started a slew of not ready for primetime players. Now comes the payoff with four tremendous-looking sophomore talents and a good junior in Thomas, not to mention more young talent in Jackson Bullard, ready to grow into their jobs. There's still work to be done, and it might take one more year to go from miserable to elite, but this should be the team's biggest area of improvement.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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