2014 Tennessee Preview: What You Need To Know
Tennessee WR Marquez North
Tennessee WR Marquez North
Posted Jul 2, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Tennessee (Getty Images)

2014 Tennessee Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Tennessee Preview 
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What You Need To Know About The Offense: Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has to pump some life into a passing game that wasn't efficient or effective, and an offense that finished 102nd in the nation with just 353 yards per game. The problem? Where to start. The entire line needs an overhaul with all five starters from last year gone. Also gone is leading rusher Rajion Neal, and the quarterback situation is iffy at best needing someone to step up and take the job. There's a lot of talented youth and upside thanks to a fantastic recruiting class that should make the receiving corps a strength, and there are more than enough options to work with projected starting running back Marlin Lane. Again, though, the line – it's an issue. Great in pass protection last season, it could be a work in progress to come together for the ground attack.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: The defense could make a huge improvement if the line comes together right away. With Curt Maggitt back from a knee injury to combine with hitting machine A.J. Johnson, the linebacking corps should be great, and the secondary might be outstanding with corners Cameron Sutton and Justin Coleman two good ones to work around safety Brian Randolph. The run defense was awful last season, and while there's promise and potential on the ends, the tackles are going to be a concern early on. It's going to take some shuffling and some surprises for everything to work to improve on the inconsistencies of last year, but with the latest recruiting class, the speed and athleticism have been upgraded.

Players You Need To Know

1. LB A.J. Johnson, Sr.
A perennial all-star, he has been one of the SEC's best tacklers over the last few seasons with 324 in his first three seasons making 106 last year with 8.5 tackles for loss. While he wasn't used as much as a pass rusher, he continued to show off all he can do against the run with five double-digit tackling games with 18 for his career. A pure hitter, he came up with 464 stops in his high school career and has been the star of the defense from the start – he's only getting better. At 6-2 and 242 pounds he's big and tough, but he doesn't necessarily have blazing speed and might only be suited for the inside at the next level. Either way, funnel things to him and he'll come up with the stop. This year, he can play anywhere needed in the linebacking corps, but is at his best in the middle.

2. LB Curtis Maggitt, Jr.
Back from the knee injury that cost him all of last year, the 6-3, 244-pound outside linebacker is all back full and ready to go after making 30 tackles and two sacks as a sophomore before going down. While he has great size for the inside, he's good enough on the outside to work as a pass rusher and a sort of hybrid with the ability to fly into the backfield from time to time. The former high school wide receiver has tremendous athleticism and could be a dominant force in the backfield no matter where he lines up.

3. SS Brian Randolph, Jr.
Able to play any safety spot, the 6-0, 197-pound veteran is very smart, very tough, and good enough when the ball is in the air to make some big plays now and then when he isn't being used like another linebacker against the run. He didn't receive All-SEC recognition, but he finished second on the team with 75 tackles with a team-leading four picks. All back full after suffering a torn ACL early in his career, he had enough time to rest up, heal and come back to be one of the team's key players in the defensive back seven.

4. CB Cameron Sutton, Soph.
Excellent as a true freshman, the 6-1, 180-pound sophomore started from the season opener and locked down a corner spot making 39 tackles with two picks, a sack and four tackles for loss. With great size and nice athleticism, he moves well, has no problems staying with the bigger receivers and handling the quicker ones. He cuts well and has the talent and upside to be an All-SEC performer with a little more consistency and work.

5. CB Justin Coleman, Sr.
The team's No. 1 corner for the last few years, he has 5-10, 190-pound size and excellent toughness against the run, making 45 tackles on the season with a pick and seven broken up passes. A 21-game starter, he's used to the SEC battles and with his quickness and toughness, he can do a little of everything on the outside. He needs to start picking off more passes, and he needs to do a little more to make big plays, but with his aggressive style and next-level speed, he's more than fine as one of the team's top defenders.

6. RB Marlin Lane, Sr.
Can Lane hold off all the young guys? Jalen Hurd, Derrell Scott and Treyvon Paulk are talented prospects who could all see action right away, but Lane is the veteran who knows what he's doing. The 5-11, 210-pound career backup started six times as a fill in for Rajion Neal two years ago, finishing with 679 yards, and last year he ran for 534 yards and four scores averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Banged up a bit, he still managed to fight through the season and did a decent job, but again, can he be the main man? He has a great blend of size, speed and power, and he can tear off big runs in chunks, averaging five yards per carry. A good receiver, he can be used in a variety of ways.

7. WR Marquez North, Soph.
Fantastic right from the start, the 6-4, 221-pound target started 11 games as a true freshman finishing second on the team with 38 catches for a team-leading 496 yards with a score. More consistent than explosive, he came up with 102 yards on three catches against South Carolina, but his only score came the week before against Georgia. A potential matchup nightmare, he was a Junior Olympic-caliber hurdler with great deep speed. If the quarterback play is better, his numbers should skyrocket.

8. WR Von Pearson, Jr.
The Vols are bringing in some nice freshman receiver prospects, but the 6-3, 181-pound Pearson should pay off right away. The star JUCO transfer from Feather River College has excellent athleticism to go along with his size, and he showed at the JUCO level just how unstoppable he could be catching 132 passes for 2,358 yards and 22 touchdowns in his two seasons. All the tools are there to be an instant star at the Z.

9. RB Jalen Hurd, Fr.
An interesting prospect, is he a huge, thumping running back, or is he an ideal linebacker? The 6-3, 230-pounder is smooth as silk in his cuts and could be a game-changing offensive star if fed the ball enough. However, his skill set is way too perfect to not at least think about moving to the defensive side. He carried his Tennessee high school team to a 2012 state title on the way to Mr. Football honors, running for 240 yards per game highlighted by a 451-yard day. Coming back from a shoulder injury that cost him almost all of last year, he's healthy again and ready to make an impact.

10. WR Josh Malone, Fr,
Is he the next great Tennessee receiver? At 6-3 and 202 pounds he has the size, and he knows how to use it with the ability to outphysical his man and fight the ball when it's a 50/50 shot. He's not going to blaze past anyone, but he could be devastating around the goal line and has enough speed to make himself open. Tennessee's Mr. Football, he's going to get every shot at a starting spot right away.

- 2014 Tennessee Preview