2013 Tennessee Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Tennessee Volunteer Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian inherits an awesome offensive line that grew and matured last season allowing just eight sacks, and now it comes back loaded with veterans and fringe all-star candidates. Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are terrific backs who'll crank out yards in chunks at times, and there's decent upside at quarterback with excellent young prospects battling veteran Justin Worley to replace Tyler Bray. And then there's the receiving corps. No one could instantly replace the over 2,200 yards and 21 touchdowns from Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Zach Rogers, and losing tight end Mychal Rivera will also hurt. If the receivers don't shine quickly, the offense will sputter.
Star of the offense: Junior OT Antonio Richardson
Passing: Justin Worley
15-23, 134 yds, 0 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Rajion Neal
156 carries, 708 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Marlin Lane
29 catches, 228 yds, 0 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR Vincent Dallas
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman QB Nathan Peterman
Best pro prospect: Richardson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Richardson, 2) OT Ja'Wuan James, 3) OG Zach Fulton
Strength of the offense: Line, Running Back
Weakness of the offense: Receiver, Quarterback
After Tyler Bray made the disastrous decision to turn pro early – he wasn't drafted and signed a free agent deal with Kansas City – now the Volunteers have a fight on their hands for the starting quarterback job. Junior Justin Worley is the safe choice with a little bit of experience and good upside. The 6-4, 213-pound junior is very smart and looks the part, but he struggled when given the chance throwing for 134 yards with two picks in mop-up time last season and had a big problem when thrown to the wolves as a freshman when Bray was injured. While he was able to lead the way to a win over Middle Tennessee with 291 yards and a score two years ago, he predictably struggled against South Carolina and Arkansas. Even so, he showed tremendous promise and potential with a little more time. The 2010 Gatorade National Player of the Year threw for 13,385 yards and 157 scores as a high school superstar, has moxie to be a terrific bomber, but he needs to be sharper.
Hot on Worley's heels is redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, a 6-2, 226-pound pure passer out of Florida with terrific passing skills and more mobility. While he might not have the NFL look like Bray had, and he might not quite seem the part like Worley, he's being given every opportunity to take over the job with his ability to wing it all around the yard and move around when needed.
Watch Out For … Joshua Dobbs, an extremely promising four-star recruit out of Georgia with 6-3, 190-pound size and deadly accurate short-to-midrange arm. While he can run a little bit, he's going to shine as a very smart, very tough leader who'll do just about everything right. A winner and a great Also coming in is Riley Ferguson, a 6-3, 180-pounder who doesn't have Dobbs' tools, but is a good winner and a pro-style passer who can get the chains moving with a huge arm.
Strength: Tremendous young talent. On pure upside, the future is extremely bright with a great prospect in Worley who'll likely get a bigger chance, and some excellent untested prospects for the coaching staff to mold. The problem is …
Weakness: Who will the quarterbacks throw to? It's not like they're walking into a turn-key situation; all the receivers are leaving. It's been hard for the coaches to figure out what they have considering the receivers struggled so much this offseason.
Outlook: There's a world of talent to play around with, but it hurts losing a 3,612-yard, 34-touchdown passer like Bray. There will be a learning curve, and it's going to take all summer to cement one player in the starting role – and even then it'll be a fight – but once the growing pains are over, there's going to be a payoff. It just might not be this year.
Unit Rating: 6.5
If the backs can get any room to move, and if defense don't load up to stop them, they should be good enough to carry the offense. 5-11, 210-pound senior Rajion Neal was the Georgia Player of the Year four 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. Last season he turned into the main man with a team-leading 708 yards and five scores to go along with 19 catches for 149 yards and four touchdowns, but he missed two key games in the middle of the year against Alabama and South Carolina with an ankle injury and he wasn't the same the rest of the way. Before getting banged up he was on a roll with 141 yards against Akron and 104 with a score against Georgia – with a receiving touchdown in each game. When 100%, he can be a workhorse who handles the ball over 20 times a game.
When Neal went down, junior Marlin Lane Jr. tried to step up. While he struggled in the starting role against the mighty Alabama and South Carolina defenses, he ripped apart Troy for 132 yards and two scores and did a nice job in the blowout loss to Vanderbilt with 108 yards. Averaging 5.5 yards per pop, the 5-11, 205-pounder finished second on the team with 658 yards and two scores while catching 29 passes for 228 yards. More impressive as a receiver at times, he has a good blend of size, speed and power, and he has more home run hitting potential than Neal.
Working as a bruising runner and partly a fullback when needed, 6-2, 217-pound redshirt freshman Alden Hill will find a jack-of-all-trades role. Very smart and very versatile, he pounded out 4,745 yards in high school showing the ability to crank out yards in chunks. However, he'll likely turn into more of a blocker and a receiver early on.
Watch Out For … Jabo Lee. The 5-10, 180-pounder might not be the normal Tennessee superstar running back recruit, but he's a nice, tough back who plays bigger than his size. Knocked down a bit in the recruiting process because of a knee injury as a senior, the Vols might have gotten a steal if they can be a little patient.
Strength: The 1-2 punch. As long as Neal is healthy, Tennessee has as solid a backfield tandem as anyone in the East besides Georgia. Neal and Lane are good, sound veterans who can catch and don't put the ball on the ground too often. They'll complement each other extremely well.
Weakness: The passing game. Until the new starting quarterback and all the fresh new faces in the receiving corps can prove they can produce, watch out for defenses to send everyone and the waterboy up to the line to stop the run. There might not be any room to move.
Outlook: There's talent in place to hope for the ground game to take control of the offense from the start. Keeping both Neal and Lane fresh is a must, but the coaching staff has to unearth several other options to get into the rotation right away.
Unit Rating: 8
Looking for something to do? Can you catch? If so, then the Tennessee offense wants you. With all the stars gone from the receiving corps, the hope is for 5-11, 187-pound junior Vincent Dallas to rise up and become the team's new star No. 1 target. It didn't happen this offseason, but he has decent size and track star speed to become a factor. However, he only came up with nine catches for 149 yards and a score, doing most of the damage on a 61-yard play against South Carolina.
Junior Jacob Carter is another promising target with 6-0, 180-pound size and a little bit of experience, but he only caught eight passes for 126 yards and a score. The former walk-on is physical and has decent speed, but he did most of his work against the weak and the sad. He'll be pushed hard by the very big, very physical 6-5, 232-pound redshirt freshman Jason Croom, who'll literally play a huge role after coming off a shoulder injury. A good athlete and a great recruit, he could be a matchup nightmare once he figures out what he's doing.
The real star of the show could soon be sophomore Alton "Pig" Howard, a great recruit for the program out of Orlando with gamebreaking quickness and the ability to see time as a runner – carrying it 14 times
for 44 yards – or a receiver, but he only caught 13 passes for 54 yards and a score, averaging a mere 4.2 yards per play. The upside is there to be fantastic, but the light hasn't gone on yet. Until then, junior Devrin Young will get plenty of chances. The 5-8, 172-pound blazer has some of the best wheels on the team, but he wasn't able to show them off too much catching just five passes for nine yards and running 33 times for 140 yards – a 4.2-yard average. Used more as a special teamer so far, he has the tools and the abilities to become a home run hitter.
As if losing the top receivers wasn't bad enough tight end Mychal Rivera is gone, too, after finishing third on the team with 36 catches. 6-5, 254-pound junior Brendan Downs has the skills to quickly grow into a safety valve. He only caught three passes for 39 yards and a score, but he has nice hands and good blocking skills. Never quite right after missing the first part of the year with a knee injury, now he's ready to roll.
Watch Out For … freshmen, freshmen, freshmen. It was an easy sell – come to Tennessee and compete for a starting job right away. The Vols signed on six wideouts and two tight ends, but the truly big-time get was MarQuez North, a 6-4, 214-pound matchup nightmare out of North Carolina. A Junior Olympic-caliber hurdler with great fight and good deep speed, the tools are there to become the next great Vol receiver. If he's not the guy, Paul Harris, Ryan Jenkins and a slew of other young targets will be happy to get their shot.
Strength: Opportunity. No one is expecting much of anything out of this group, but after a lackluster offseason, the chances are there for all the true freshmen to make an impact and raise the competition level. There's undeniable talent with enough bodies and options for the coaching staff to find three good receivers who can make the passing game go.
Weakness: Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Zach Rogers, Mychael Rivera. They take with them almost 3,000 yards of passes from last season and 26 of the 35 touchdown passes. Good luck with that.
Outlook: Tennessee was Wide Receiver U. in the 2012 NFL Draft, and it's going to show this fall. Dallas, Carter, Croom and Howard all have to raise their respective games several levels, but can they? After an inconsistent spring, there are several question marks which won't be answered right away after all the freshmen get their say. It'll all work out well, but it might take a while.
Unit Rating: 7
The line turned into a major positive last season as it matured into a terrific pass blocking unit helped by the emergence of junior Antonio Richardsoninto a force at left tackle. The all-star honors were sparse, but the 6-6, 332-pound big blocker was fantastic at keeping speed rushers under wraps and did a strong job as the anchor for the ground game. The one-time super-recruit is growing into an excellent pro prospect – likely as a right tackle or left guard – with this season a likely salary-drive. He'll have a big decision to make at the end of the season.
6-6, 323-pound senior Ju'Wuan James started every game at right tackle and has been a fixture over the last few seasons. If something happens to Richardson he'll immediately move over to the left side, but he grew into the gig on the right doing a fantastic job engulfing defenders and starting to be more physical. Even bigger and stronger, he should be more of a force. If he has to move over for any reason, senior Alex Bullard would step into the spot. The 6-2, 300-pound senior is built more like a guard and has spent time at center, but he's going to work more on the outside. The former Notre Dame transfer also lined up at times as a massive blocking tight end. He'll also be a top backup at left guard.
Senior James Stone grabbed hold of the starting center job and didn't let it go, starting every game and turning into a good leader and strong run blocker up front. Tremendously promising as a freshman, earning all-star honors, he had starting experience, but last year he made the job his after also seeing time at guard. Consistent snapping the ball with either hand, he should mature into an all-star blocker in his final season.
The right guard spot is set with 6-5, 324-pound senior Zach Fulton, a decent starter who won't move too much, but doesn't get shoved around and holds tough at the point of attack. Well past an ankle injury suffered a few years ago, he bulked up a little bit and should be even stronger for the ground game. 6-2, 310-pound junior Marcus Jackson will take over the left guard job full-time after serving last year as a backup. After having problems for the ground game early in his career, the Florida native started to be more consistent over the second half of last season when given a shot, and with good experience to go along with his bulk, the potential is there to be a force.
Watch Out For … Austin Sanders, and team's top recruit for the line with 6-5, 284-pound size and left tackle athleticism. He's never going to grow into a freak-of-nature beast for the line, but after he packs on some muscle he'll be a whale of an all-around blocker. Versatile enough to play anywhere on the line, he'll be a sure-thing starter in a few years.
Strength: Pass protection and experience. Four starters are back and Jackson is loaded with experience. Yes, it might have been a function of the system and it might have been because Tyler Bray was great at getting the ball out of his hands, but giving up just eight sacks in 477 pass attempts is impressive.
Weakness: Developed depth. The backup situation isn't all that bad, but if one of the starters goes down, there will likely be more reshuffling than a next-man-up situation. There's a definite pecking order, and the coaching staff will put the best players at the most important spots.
Outlook: Easily the strength of the offense and one of the keys to the season, the front five has been building to this season and the payoff should come. It's not the most physical of blocking units and won't destroy defensive fronts like others in the SEC try to do, but it'll be very, very effective.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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