Tennessee Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
Tennessee Volunteers
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Tennessee Volunteers Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten – It’s your ball, Ainge – Early in the Tennessee-LSU broadcast from last year’s comeback win, color commentator Bob Davie made the following comment “Erik Ainge has to be the happiest guy because the revolving quarterback situation is over.”  Little did Davie, or many others know that Ainge was about 40 minutes of game time from refuting that statement by his own doing.  Whether it was alternating with Brent Schaeffer (or hurt) or Rick Clausen, Oregon’s finest has never ‘taken’ the job that many thought should be his.  And, his only.  But, 2006 is a new year, and maybe it’s this year that Davie’s comment is on point.  The crazy thing is that it’s all up to Ainge, really.  Sure, the injury in his true freshman season slowed him down at an inopportune time, but the Ainge that we all saw last season was a shell of the quarterback that we all expected.  Bad mechanically with little confidence, Ainge finished with a 45% completion percentage on the year.  Regardless, no one player may be more valuable to his team’s success this year in the SEC than Ainge.  Now, that might sound a bit over the top, but think about it.  This is a team that desperately needs leadership, on the field, more than any other.  The pressure to get back to the top of the SEC East was evident throughout the offseason, which was a little longer than usual in Tennessee.  And, this offense will only go as far as Ainge and his strong right arm will take it.  As the quarterback, the immense pressure of the 2006 season rests entirely on his broad shoulders.  This team is yearning for an on-field leader to believe in, and if Ainge can keep the offense on track, the Vols will have that leader.  With new and former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe back in Knoxville, Ainge has the right guy to ‘coach’ him on the little things.  Well, if you think that footwork, game management and decision making are little things.  He doesn’t have to throw for 4,000 yards or 40 touchdowns – he just has to make the right throw at the right time every time.  That’s what you have to do when it’s your ball.

2nd and Seven – Seventh Heaven? – Every year, the Vols seem to have one of the most talented defensive front seven’s in the nation.  Last year’s version was fairly good in its own right, but the personnel losses were pretty severe.  Suffice it to say, defensive coordinator John Chavis will have a ton of work ahead of him with this crew.  The good news is that Justin Harrell is as good as any DT in the SEC, but if the rest of the line doesn’t step up to fill the holes created by graduation, teams will double and triple him until he’s a no factor.  But, the Vols usually replace talent with talent, so don’t expect too much fall off up front.  At linebacker, the situation is a little murkier, especially with projected starting middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell’s ‘problems’.    Either way, keep an eye on this front seven this fall and how well the holes in this defense get filled.

3rd and Three – Foster’s Deli – After getting a wide-open opportunity late in the season to carry the football after Gerald Riggs, Jr. was lost for the season, Arian Foster took the ball and ran and ran and ran and ran (man, what is it about running backs from San Diego, California?).  No one seemed to have an answer for the talented Californian.  Over the last five games of the year, Foster registered more than 100 yards in each game, including 223 yards on 40 carries against Vanderbilt.  Ainge will need as much help as possible this season and this bruising, breakaway back should provide him a game changing weapon.  Foster has the speed to get into the secondary and the power to blow through it.  He’s only scratched the surface of what he can do, and 2006 should be his national coming out party. 

4th and One – Triple Play – Robert Meachem, Bret Smith and Jayson Swain haven’t stood out individually for the Volunteers, but as a group, they’re a solid trio who must continue to blossom this year for Ainge.  Meachem led the Vols with 29 receptions last season, but has yet to really explode on the scene as was expected when he arrived from Tulsa, OK.  Smith is probably the team’s best red zone receiver, while Swain is a big, physical threat who creates mismatches with his size.  All three must be more consistent catching the football, but in Cutcliffe’s offense, the three of them should be on the field together a good deal.  This threesome should combine for 150 catches+ in 2006.

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