2012 Tennessee Preview – Offense
Tennessee QB Tyler Bray
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Tennessee Volunteer Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense looks like all the pieces should be in place for a huge year, but it's asking a lot for a huge jump up in production after finishing 106th in the nation in scoring and 104th in yards. Health is the key after losing WR Justin Hunter to a torn ACL early last season and with QB Tyler Bray out for a stretch with a broken thumb, but they're both back along with Da'Rick Rogers and TE Mychal Rivera forming one of the SEC's best passing attacks. The line was great in pass protection but couldn't push anyone around for a ground game that averaged just 90 yards per game. Even though there's plenty of experience, lots of depth, and nice upside, the line has to show it can start beating someone up. It'll be a running back by committee approach with several talented options, but the ground game needs to get far more from the line.
Star of the offense: Junior QB Tyler Bray
Passing: Tyler Bray
147-247, 1,983 yds, 17 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Marlin Lane
75 carries, 280 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Da'Rick Rogers
67 catches, 1,040 yds, 9 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore OT Antonio Richardson
Unsung star on the rise: Senior TE Mychal Rivera
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Da'Rick Rogers
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bray, 2) Rogers, 3) WR Justin Hunter
Strength of the offense: Receivers, Passing Game
Weakness of the offense: Running Game, Proven Overall Production
Just how good can junior Tyler Bray become? All the tools are there to be a special, NFL first round draft pick sort of talent with 6-6, 213-pound size and one of the best arms in all of college football. When he's on, he can take over games by himself with a gunslinger mentality and the passing ability to keep defenses on their heels. Now he has to take his game up a few notches and be more consistent and more accurate after completing 60% of his passes for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns with six picks in an injury-shortened season, missing six games with a banged up thumb before returning late in the year. However, when he came back to face Vanderbilt and Kentucky he struggled, especially against the Wildcats completing just 15 of 38 passes in a game the team had to have to go bowling. Getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry is a must behind a shaky O line that's going through a bit of an overhaul. With no mobility, he's often a sitting duck. However, with almost two years of experience he should be a stronger decision maker, and with a loaded receiving corps to throw to he should be in the mix for all-star honors.
6-4, 211-pound sophomore Justin Worley was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman after Bray got hurt, and while he was able to lead the way to a win over Middle Tennessee with 291 yards and a score, he predictably struggled against South Carolina and Arkansas. Even so, he showed tremendous promise and potential as the team's star of the future if and when Bray takes off early to the NFL. Worley, the 2010 Gatorade National Player of the Year, threw for 13,385 yards and 157 scores as a high school superstar, has the size, smarts and moxie to be a terrific bomber, and now he just needs a little more time and seasoning.
Waiting in the wings as the likely No. 2 man for a few years after Bray leaves is Nathan Peterman, a good recruit out of Florida with pure passing skills and better running skills than Bray and Worley. The 6-2, 215-pounder doesn't look like the NFL bomber that the other Vol quarterbacks do, but he can push the ball all over the field.
Watch Out For … Bray to blow up in a good way. He has Justin Hunter back to help the receiving corps, and the O line, with a little more tweaking, should be fine. It's salary drive time, and with his size and arm he could rocket up the draft charts.
Strength: Passers. While he didn't really show it in his true freshman season, Worley can play. He's a terrific prospect with NFL upside, and Bray has the potential to be the SEC's best pure thrower.
Weakness: Mobility. Forget about the dual-threat playmakers that are so popular around college football; Tennessee is about NFL passers, and it has a good mix of arms. However, there's no rushing threat whatsoever from anyone under center, which was part of the reason the team finished dead last in the SEC and 116th in the nation in rushing.
Outlook: Remember the days of Jonathan Crompton and Matt Simms? The Vol quarterback situation is night-and-day better than it was not all that long ago with Bray a special talent who needs to have the consistency and the focus to match up with the talent. At some point over the next few years Worley will be in the mix for all-star honors.
Unit Rating: 8.5
Taruen Poole was an excellent back who never got any room to move. Even so, he was the team's leading rusher with 693 yards, and now it's going to take a rotation and a committee to replace him. 6-0, 205-pound sophomore Marlin Lane Jr. got a little work here and there in his true freshman season finishing second on the team with 280 yards and two scores, but he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. More impressive as a receiver at times, he caught 17 passes for 314 yards and two scores, but all four of his scores on the season came within the first three games. He has a good blend of speed and size, and if he gets a little bit of room to move he should be able to crank out a few home runs here and there.
5-11, 210-pound junior Rajion Neal was the Georgia Player of the Year three seasons ago leading Sandy Creek to the AAAA state title. Very slippery with good ability through the middle, he can provide a pop to go along with good speed and quickness. He didn't get in much work last season with a mere 134 yards on 27 carries with two scores, but he averaged five yards per carry and caught 13 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown with a 53-yard play against Kentucky.
Dervin Young will add even more speed and quickness to the mix. While he's only 5-8 and 171 pounds, he's a flash who showed glimpses of greatness as a returner. He only ran for nine yards on three carries and caught three passes for 25 yards, but he's a change-of-pace guy who can make the fast backfield even faster.
6-2, 251-pound senior Ben Bartholomew is part tight end, part fullback, and all blocker catching six passes for 54 yards. He'll never run the ball, but he's a powerful short-range receiver and he can hit. He'll be backed up by 6-5, 251-pound sophomore Brendan Downs, who's more of a tight end than a fullback. He caught three passes for 34 yards, and while he can block and isn't afraid to hit, his worth will be as a receiver in two tight end sets.
Watch Out For … Neal. There's too much talent and too much upside to not get him lots and lots of work. He got three starts last year and was good when he got his chances, but he didn't get the ball enough. As a runner or a receiver, he has the potential to do big things when he gets his chances.
Strength: Runners. Lane, Neal and Young are all terrific talents who can all make a big difference from time to time. There might not be a special workhorse in the bunch, but the combination should put up big numbers if there's better play from …
Weakness: The O line. The front five didn't get any sort of a push last year. Tauren Poole was an excellent back who never, ever had any room to move. Tennessee has a world of talent at running back, but it doesn't matter if there aren't any spaces to fly through.
Outlook: Tennessee always gets good running backs, but there have been more flameouts than superstars over the last several years. For every Arian Foster there's a Bryce Brown. But if the line can do a little bit of muscling, this year's group should get the job done with a strong rotation and workload by committee. The backs won't have to carry the offensive workload, but they should produce if given room.
Unit Rating: 7
If All-America honors were named after Week 2, junior Justin Hunter would've been a first-teamer. The 6-4, 200-pounder started out the year with six catches for 146 yards and a score against Montana and followed it up with ten grabs for 156 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati. He made one catch for 12 yards against Florida, but he tore his ACL and was knocked out for the year. Not just big, he has next-level wheels averaging a whopping 25.9 yards per grab with seven scores on just 16 catches as a freshman, but he still needs a little time to get back to 100%. 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.
Hunter is back and could become the team's No. 1 target at times, but at the very least, junior Da'Rick Rogers should be in for another phenomenal season as one of Tyler Bray's main men. The hope was for Rogers to grow into his talent and potential, and he did with 67 catches for 1,040 yards and nine scores, highlighted by a ten-catch, 100-yard, two-score day against Cincinnati and a ten-catch, 116-yard, two-score day against Vanderbilt. A deep threat with 6-3, 208-pound size, elite wheels and tremendous all-around athleticism, it's all there. The star of the 2010 recruiting class and Parade All-American set the Georgia state record for a season with 1,641 yards and 22 scores, and now it's all coming together at the Z position. The NFL will be calling very, very soon.
5-11, 186-pound sophomore Vincent Dallas will work behind Hunter at the X but could play a big role early on. With good size and terrific speed, the star high school sprinter has the wheels to go along with a physical style that should make him a solid No. 3 target when he gets more chances after making three catches for 37 yards. Also in the rotation will be Zach Rogers, a 6-0, 180-pound senior who caught 14 passes for 189 yards and a score. Extremely quick and dangerous when he gets the ball on the move, he'll play at the Z behind Da'Rick Rogers.
It's not like the receiving corps needs another superstar with good NFL talent up top, but JUCO transfer
Cordarrelle Patterson has the potential to be special. One of the nation's top JUCO prospects, and Tennessee's top recruit, is 6-3 and 205 pounds with explosive speed. He caught 61 passes for 924 yards and 15 scores for Hutchinson CC, and he could be devastating as a No. 3 option.
When Hunter went down, senior tight end Mychal Rivera stepped up a bit finishing second on the team with 29 catches for 344 yards and a score. The former JUCO transfer from College of the Canyons originally signed with Oregon and showed off flashes of what he can become. He has good hands and can hit with the ability and potential to stretch the field a bit. 6-6, 283-pound sophomore Cameron Clear is more like a third offensive tackle while also working on special teams. He caught one pass for four yards, but he's at his best when he gets to hit someone.
Watch Out For … Rivera. Even with the great wide receivers to throw to the Vols have a talent at tight end to keep feeding the ball. Rivera has the hands and the skills to be a 40-catch go-to target on third downs.
Strength: Rogers and Hunter. Hunter might not be back to normal quite yet, but if and when he is, Tennessee has a 1-2 receiver punch as good and as talented as any in the country.
Weakness: Depth. Zach Rogers and Vincent Dallas are fine, but they're not Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. It was a big hit when DeAnthony Arnett - the team's third leading receiver catching 24 passes for 242 yards and two scores – chose to transfer to Michigan State.
Outlook: Even with no running game and with Tyler Bray getting hurt, Da'Rick Rogers came up with a huge season. Hunter could be even more dangerous and deadly, and once he's back and healthy the Vol passing game will be special. Throw Rivera into the mix and Tennessee has three NFL-caliber targets, but the depth has to be better and more reliable.
Unit Rating: 8.5
The offensive line has to be far, far better, and it starts with hoping for a big season from 6-6, 329-pound sophomore Antonio Richardson at left tackle. He didn't get a start last year but he was a part of the special teams and a key backup. This offseason he showed that he might be ready to hold down the key spot for the next three years with good toughness and great size. He'll be backed up by 6-5, 320-pound redshirt freshman Kyler Kerbyson, a nice recruit who might have a future on the right side but has the talent to be a terrific pass protector on the left.
Senior Dallas Thomas started the last 25 games up front but will move over from tackle to guard. At 6-5 and 300 pounds he's built for the outside, and he was fine in pass protection, but he's going to be an athletic interior blocker working at left guard now with Richardson getting the call at tackle. Very strong and with a good head on his shoulders, he should be more than fine. Sophomore Marcus Jackson will work in as needed and could get the starting job if Thomas moves back to his old spot. The 6-2, 318-pounder started the final five games of last year and worked on special teams, but he didn't quite get enough done for the running game. The Florida native was one of the team's top recruits last year and will eventually be a mainstay.
Junior Ja'Wuan James started every game last season at right tackle and was fantastic in pass protection. Now he has to be more physical and has to do far more for the ground attack. At 6-6 and 320 pounds he's a big, talented player with a few years of experience and a good upside. While he can finish off his blocks, he has to be more of a blaster.
6-2, 304-pound junior Alex Bullard started out his career at Notre Dame working at guard before moving to tackle. Now the local product has established himself as the main man at center after getting a nice break and being eligible right away last year. After starting the first six games at left guard, he turned out to be better at center. Now he'll be the quarterback for the line for the next two seasons, but he could move back to guard it absolutely needed.
There will be a battle at right guard between junior Zach Fulton and James Stone, two veterans who know what they're doing. The 6-5, 319-pound Fulton started every game last season after getting past the ankle problem that bothered him in 2010. With great size and the maturity to know what he's doing, he's a good pass blocker and wasn't bad at times for the ground game. The 6-3, 310-pound James Stone is a run blocker with good toughness, but he has to start blasting away. Tremendously promising as a freshman, earning all-star honors, he started nine games working mostly in the middle. After moving over to left guard, now he'll battle for the job at right guard.
Watch Out For … more movement. There has already been a ton of changes to try to find the right combination, and it's not going to stop for a little while. Write the depth chart in pencil.
Strength: Pass protection and experience. The Vols were solid last year at keeping the quarterbacks clean allowing just 18 sacks. There's great size among the veteran across the board to hope for more production for …
Weakness: The running game. It was non-existent last season cranking out just 90 yards per game. The running backs are good, and the size and strength are there up front, but the production has to start coming.
Outlook: Is the line ready to mature into something strong? The Vol coaching staff started from scratch a few years ago throwing in a slew of talented but untested players to the wolves. The payoff didn't come last year as expected, but now there's depth and just enough talent to hope for a better year for the ground attack. The pass protection will be fine, but the run blocking has to be far, far better. There will be some shifting to find the right combination, but the pieces are there.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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