Tennessee Preview 2006 - Offense
Tennessee Volunteers
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Tennessee Volunteers Preview 2006 - UT Volunteer Offense

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. 

Returning Leaders
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 Erik Ainge
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 backfield

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

Projected Starter
- 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.

Top Backups
- 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 experience.
- 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.

Running Backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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 going.

Top Backups
- 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 level.
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

Projected Starters
- 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, 2 TD
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 ypc
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 receiver.

Top Backups
- Josh Briscoe, Soph. - 4 catches, 80 yds, 20 ypc, 1 TD
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 Bret Smith.
- 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.

Offensive Linemen
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 experience.
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: 7.5

Projected Starters
- OT 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. 
- C 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, Soph.
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 starter.
- 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.

Top Backups
- Anthony Parker, Soph.
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.

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