What you need to know ...
Tennessee had way too much talent to average 326 yards and 18.6
points per game last year, and changes were made in the coaching
staff bringing in former Ole Miss head coach and Tennessee
offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe to handle the offense
again. Expect a night-and-day turnaround with a speedy, veteran
receiving corps, a talented workhorse running back in Arian
Foster along with an inexperienced, but lightning fast group of
reserves, and a huge line that should be rock solid despite the
return of only one starter. The big question is at quarterback
where Erik Ainge has to live up to the promise of a solid 2004
season and not play like the shaky sophomore he was last year.
Passing: Erik Ainge
66-145, 737 yds, 5 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Arian Foster
183 carries, 879 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Robert Meachem
29 catches, 383 yds, 2 TD
Star of the offense: Senior OT Arron Sears
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Eric Young
Best pro prospect: Sears
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sears, 2) RB Arian
Foster, 3) WR Robert Meachem
Strength of the offense: Speed, size on the offensive
line and receiving corps
Weakness of the offense: Experienced depth in the
Don't expect musical quarterbacks. This is Erik Ainge's
job to sink or swim with, but it might be hard to keep Jonathan
Crompton, who still needs seasoning, on the bench if Ainge struggles out of the gate like he
did last year. The addition of David Cutcliffe to coach the
offense and the quarterbacks will help immeasurably, and Ainge
showed signs this spring that last season was a fluke. There's
no experience among the reserves.
The key to the unit: Developing the reserves in a big
hurry in case Erik Ainge struggles again.
Quarterback Rating: 8
- Erik Ainge, Jr. - 66-145, 45.5%, 737 yds, 5 TD, 7 INT
Ainge is a million-dollar talent who played like a confused
rookie last year completing a mere 46% of his throws while
losing the starting job the mediocre Rick Clausen. He sprayed
his throws, never looked comfortable, and wasn't the leader he
was supposed to be after a strong freshman season. The addition
of new offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe will help immensely
with his mechanics and decision-making ability. At 6-6, he has
the size and the arm strength to be an All-SEC star, but he has
to do all the little things right to manage the offense. Don't
expect him to run.
- Jonathan Crompton, RFr.
A scary-good prospect, the 6-4, 228-pound redshirt freshman is
looking to get healthy after suffering a shoulder problem to
push for the starting job. He has a live arm and night-and-day
more mobility than Erik Ainge, but he doesn't have any
- Bo Hardegree, Jr.
The 6-5, 215-pound junior has been around long enough to know
the offense, and he has good feet and athleticism for his size,
but he hasn't been able to make much of a dent in the depth
chart. He likely won't have a shot at the number two job unless
Jonathan Crompton is hurt.
There's little overall experience, but there might not be a
faster group of backup running backs in America behind Arian Foster.
The sophomore is a big workhorse able to grind out
100 yards every time out, but he's not going to break off
many big runs. That's where all the track star speed among
the top reserves has to come through with speed to burn among a
dinged up group. 275-pound Cory Anderson is
one of the nation's best blocking fullbacks.
The key to the unit: The speedy
backups to be involved early to keep Arian Foster from wearing down.
Running Back Rating: 9
- Arian Foster, Soph. - 183 carries, 879 yds, 4.8 ypc, 5
TD, 14 catches, 148 yds
Don't blame Foster for last year's problems on offense. The 6-1,
211-pound sophomore was, arguably, the nation's best back over
the final five games of the season ripping off games of 148
yards, 125, 132, 223 and 114 yards showing off toughness and a
workhorse ability to carry the offense. He's not going to hit
any home runs, but he's not slow.
- Fullback Cory Anderson, Sr. - 7 carries, 20 yds, 2.9 ypc, 14
catches, 147 yds
One of the nation's best blocking fullbacks, the 275-pound
senior won't get the ball much as a runner, but he's a dangerous
receiver on short-yardage pass plays. There are few better at
doing the physical dirty work needed to get the ground game
- Montario Hardesty, Soph. - 6 carries, 18 yards
Hardesty adds the flash and dash missing from Arian Foster. The
sophomore has track star speed and is a threat to hit the home
run every time he touches the ball, and now he needs to get more
work. He'll be deadly when he gets the ball in space if he's
100% healthy after missing almost all of spring ball.
- Ja'Kouri Williams, Soph.
Williams isn't as fast as Montario Hardesty or LaMarcus Coker,
but he can move. He has the ability to grow into an excellent
third down back after he finally finds his way in the rotation.
- LaMarcus Coker, RFr
Speed, speed and more speed. Coker was a Tennessee state high
school champion sprinter, but he wasn't able to stay healthy on
the football field. He's not a big back at only 5-11 and 190
pounds needing his wheels to get him in the mix.
- Fullback David Holbert, Jr.
Things are thin at fullback behind Cory Anderson, so it'll be
vital for the 259-pound Holbert to play a big role as a backup.
He was a superstar high school linebacker and running back and
has more speed than Anderson, but he likely won't see the ball.
Let's try this again. Was the
receiving corps bad because the quarterbacks didn't produce, or
was it the other way around, or was it a combination of the two?
There's size, speed, and experience to burn with Jayson Swain,
Robert Meachem and Bret Smith all NFL-caliber targets. Now they
have to play up to their talent level and do a better, more
consistent job. New, hard-nosed receiver coach Trooper Taylor
will see that things shape up. The rating is based on talent
The key to the unit: The big receivers have to play up to
their talent. Confidence will be vital needing a few early big
plays this season to get the ball rolling.
Receiver Rating: 8.5
- Jayson Swain, Sr. - 27 catches, 380 yds, 14.1 ypc
The 6-1, 218-pound Swain is a big, strong, physical receiver who
was one of the team's most consistent targets last year.
However, he wasn't a big playmaker failing to score a touchdown.
Even though there are several great targets to get the ball to, Swain
needs to standout as more of a deep target.
- Robert Meachem, Jr. - 29 catches, 383 yds, 13.2 ypc,
Can Meachem become the NFL-caliber superstar he could be? He's
6-3 and 218 pounds with fantastic athleticism and next-level
speed, but he only caught one touchdown pass over the final ten
games and disappeared way too often to be considered a number one target.
He can make the big plays and the big catches. Now he has to
make more of them.
- Bret Smith, 21 catches, 223 yds, 10.6 ypc, 3 TD
Smith is a dangerous deep receiver who didn't make a whole bunch
of big plays last year and did next to nothing over the second
half of the season. He's 6-3 and fast with good hands, and now he
has to be better at consistently getting open and he has to make
the most out of every opportunity like he did in 2004 when he
scored five touchdowns on only 18 catches.
- Tight end Chris Brown, Jr. - 14 catches, 141 yds, 10.1
Brown could be a star if a quarterback on the roster can
consistently get him the ball. He's not a steamroller like the
other tight end options, but he's a fast 239-pound target with
nice hands. He's too good not to be used more as a red zone
- Josh Briscoe, Soph. - 4 catches, 80 yds, 20 ypc, 1
Yet another big Tennessee receiver, the 6-3 sophomore made a
splash last year on his four catches highlighted by a 39-yard
touchdown grab against Memphis. He's a smart receiver with good deep speed and should push
for more time behind Jayson Swain.
- Austin Rogers, Soph. - 1 catch, 18 yds
Rogers is a big-time athlete who can jump out of the stadium.
Now he needs to find his way into the rotation playing behind
- Lucas Taylor, Soph.
He'll be a key target sooner than later with his ability to make
big plays when he gets on the move. He'll start out behind
Robert Meacham and will certainly find his way into the starting
mix somewhere before the season is out.
- Tight end Brad Cottam, Jr.
The older of the two Cottoms didn't catch a pass last year, but
he has fantastic hands and is 6-8, 263 pounds. He'll get the
first look behind Chris Brown and has to be more of a dominant
blocker to see playing time.
- Tight end Jeff Cottam, RFr.
Tennessee's Mr. Football in 2004 made more of a mark on the
defensive side than on offense. The team's best blocking tight
end, he's 6-8 and 260 pounds with
good speed and decent hands.
Technically only one starter returns, but he's a really,
really good one. Arron Sears is one of the nation's best linemen
and will be the anchor holding down the left side of the line.
This is a huge group averaging well over 300 pounds a man.
There's a lot of talent to get excited about with Eric Young
about to blossom at right tackle and David Ligon a good-looking
prospect at either guard or center. The concern is at guard where there isn't a lot of
The key to the unit: Hope for the guards
to play well and for the skill players to be good enough to
overcome the front five's early mistakes.
Offensive Line Rating:
Arron Sears, Sr.
The All-America caliber lineman can
play either tackle or guard, but he's best and most useful on
the outside. As the only returning starter on the line, he might
be moved around where needed, like he was in the win over LSU
when he saw time at four different spots. He's a strong, and
surprisingly mobile 6-4 and 338 pounds with two years of
starting experience under his belt.
- OG David Ligon, Sr.
Ligon got the starting nod in four games last year and now looks
like he'll be the starter at left guard after starting out this
spring at center. He should be
ready to shine after moving over from the defensive side to
learn how to play on the offensive line. At 300 pounds he's big
enough to be an effective run blocker.
Michael Frogg, Jr.
He has a little bit of experience
and can play just about anywhere on the line. An athletic
6-4, 330-pounder, he came out of spring ball as the starting
center after David Ligon moved to guard.
- OG Ramon
Foster is a fantastic athlete in a 6-6,
340-pound frame. He has a little bit of experience, but not
enough to assume he can step in and star right away. He should
be solid once he gets through the early growing pains as the
- OT Eric Young, Jr.
With a little bit of
starting experience, Young should blossom on the right side ...
with an emphasis on should. The
6-4, 310-pound junior has a ton of talent, but there wasn't a
spot for him last year and he hasn't lived up to his promise yet. With his combination of size and speed,
he should be in line for All-SEC honors if everyone doesn't
spend all their time focusing on Arron Sears.
- Anthony Parker,
Parker will have to learn on the fly at left guard. The
305-pound sophomore can play center if needed, but he'll be used
more at guard where his size and athleticism should make him a
force ... in time.
- OT Chris Scott, RFr.
A big, physical blocker,
the 6-5, 340-pound top prospect will spend the year as Arron
Sears' understudy before taking over on the left side next year.
- OG Malcom Rawls, RFr.
The 6-5 and 330-pound
guard has the potential to be a top pass protector on the
interior. He'll combing with Ramon Foster on the right side.