Preview 2007 -
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2006 CFN Middle
What you need to know: The offense was strange last year
finishing sixth in the league in total yards but first in
scoring. In other words, the O took advantage of almost every
opportunity despite not being all that good scoring on 33 of 36
chances in the red zone. Even without long-time starting
quarterback Clint Marks, the passing game can't help but better
whether it's Joe Craddock, or one of three other options under
center. The receiving corps is experienced, but unless Bobby
Williams plays up to his talent, it won't be much better. The
running game will be the strength with DeMarco McNair and
speedsters Desmond Gee and Phillip Tanner running behind a
Passing: Joe Craddock
9-24, 75 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: DeMarco McNair
139 carries, 586 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Bobby Williams
36 catches, 378 yds, 1 TD
Star of the offense: Junior OT Franklin Dunbar
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior WR
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Michael Cannon
Best pro prospect: Dunbar
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dunbar, 2) WR Bobby
Williams, 3) C Brandon Nix
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, receiver
Weakness of the offense:
Receiver production, quarterback experience, running back
Junior Joe Craddock will likely get the first look as the
starter, but he'll have to fight to keep the job early on. He's
not all that big and wasn't accurate in his limited time
completing nine of 24 passes with an interception, but he's
mobile, has a great arm, and offers a different look than Clint
Marks provided. He should turn out to be solid in time with the
talent to grow into the role if he's allowed to work through his
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Patrick Jackson
will be given every shot to win the starting job up until
opening day. Only 6-0 and 192 pounds, he might not be all that
big, but he's a good passer who's been around the program moving
up and down the depth chart as a backup. He was good enough that
spring to be considered a number two guy, but never broke
through to do much of anything on the field.
Also in the hunt for time is
the star of the future, redshirt freshman Salin Simpson,
who's arguably the best quarterback prospect the program has
ever had. Unlike Craddock and Jackson, Simpson's 6-3 and 210
pounds with a great résumé throwing for 58 touchdown passes in
his final two years at Henry Clay High in Lexington. He's smart
enough to get the offense down right away.
prospect is sophomore Gene Delle Donne, a 6-5, 240-pound
transfer from Duke who won't get a shot at the starting job
right away, but will be good at the three if he can beat out
Watch Out For ... the passing game to not miss Marks
all that much. Marks was good, and he was around so long that
the team was able to rely on him to run the offense, but he was
inconsistent and wasn't the type of difference maker Middle
Tennessee could win because of. There are four good prospects in
the mix who all could end up adding more pop to the attack.
Strength: Options. It's not a bad thing when
you're number three and four quarterbacks (whichever way you
want to rank Simpson and Delle Done) have more skills than the
one and two. Craddock is the guy going into the year, but the
offense should be fine with Jackson and might not fall apart
with the other options.
Weakness: Sure-thing production. It's the old adage that when
you have two starting quarterbacks, you don't have a starting
quarterback; the Blue Raiders potentially have four. They'll
have to wait until Simpson and Delle Done are ready for prime
time, while Jackson and Simpson haven't actually done it on the
Outlook: Replacing a long-time starter like Marks
isn't going to be as tough as it might appear. Craddock was
neck-and-neck for the job a few years ago before going down with
a knee injury and has been around long enough to know the
offense. The quarterback situation could be the X factor in the
Sun Belt race.
Senior DeMarco McNair
missed all of 2005 with academic
issues but got everything in order, grew into a solid number two
runner behind Eugene Gross, and now appears ready to carry the
workload after finishing second on the team with 586 yards and
seven touchdowns and tied for fourth in receptions with 16 grabs
for 139 yards. While he's not all that huge at 5-11 and 195
pounds, he's a tough runner.
At fullback, when the offense uses
one, will be senior Josh Dutton, a 241-pound pure blocker
stepping in after Hunter Birtsch went down with a knee
injury. It'll be a shock if he ever gets the ball.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Desmond Gee
is the potential home-run hitter in the backfield with the
quickness and speed to force the coaching staff to find several
ways to get the ball in his hands. He only ran for 277 yards,
but he scored five rushing touchdowns and finished second on the
team with 27 catches for 351 yards and three scores highlighted
by a 73-yard touchdown against South Carolina. He'll be used
more as just a runner this year behind McNair.
When Gee is
needed as a receiver, sophomore Phillip Tanner will be a
key reserve making the move from safety to the offensive
backfield. He's a more natural running back (running for 4,275
yards and 76 touchdowns in high school) with phenomenal speed
and decent size. At fullback, the job is Birtsch's when he's
back from a knee injury. Like Dutton, he'll only be used as a
Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to get creative
with the running game if McNair isn't a star. Already needing to
move Gee over to running back in a full-time role (for the most
part) while switching Tanner from safety, there will be real
problems if McNair goes down or isn't effective.
Strength: Potential. Yeah, everyone has potential,
but this backfield has several interesting options to work with.
McNair has All-Sun Belt (here it comes) potential, Gee and
Tanner have the wheels to crank out several big plays.
Weakness: Depth. While Gee and Tanner are going to be fun pieces
for the coaching staff to play with, it would be nice if there
was a sure-thing number two running back to rely on.
Outlook: The team has several question marks and
concerns (linebacker, number two corner), and while this isn't a
major worry, it could be. The running game was non-existent in
2005 and bounced back nicely last year. If the ground game
starts to sputter again, the offense will fall on the unproven
Is Bobby Williams ready to fulfill his vast potential?
He's 6-3, 196 pounds, fast, and has NFL-potential skills, but he
has to keep his head screwed on straight (he was booted during
spring ball two years ago) and only finished up with 36 catches
for 378 yards and a touchdowns. On the plus side, he led the
team in receiving. If the quarterbacks are playing well, there's
no excuse for Williams not to be an All-Sun Belt star. He simply
has too much talent at the outside X position.
Henry is an athletic possession receiver with 38 career
catches for 474 yards and a touchdown, and good enough to
potentially do a whole bunch more. He was absent from too many
games and almost never got the ball on the move. Getting better
separation would be a big help, but the quarterbacks have to
include him more.
At the B position is senior Jonathan
Grigsby, a veteran grinder who finished third on the team
with 24 catches for 319 yards having carved out a nice niche for
himself. The former walk-on is small, quick and tough.
Clinton Corder is back to start at tight end after catching
eight passes for 78 yards. Mostly a blocker, he could be used
more on short to medium range patterns.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Michael Cannon
is a blazing option behind Grigsby at the B position with
4.4 speed. His issue is injury having missed time throughout
last year finishing with just two catches for 19 yards.
Sophomore Patrick Honeycutt is back after missing a knee
injury and should provide a big boost to the reserves. He has
some of the best hands on the team and is able to play either
inside position. 6-2, 200-pound sophomore Rod Taylor will
back up Williams on the X and will see plenty of time on special
At tight end, senior Stephen Chicola can be
considered a starter next to Corder with plenty of experience,
good size, and decent hands catching nine passes for 79 yards
and two touchdowns. A good route runner, he caught 29 passes in
2005 and has 52 career grabs. Why isn't he the starter?
Blocking. Corder's better at it.
Alvin Ingle was starting
to become a part of the offense as a true freshman before
getting hurt early on and getting a redshirt season. A great
athlete, he could quickly take over the tight end job if he can
stretch the field.
Watch Out For ... more production. There can't be any
less. Williams should be more dangerous and Henry and Grigsby
have been around long enough to start being more involved in the
Strength: Experience. The five leading wide
receivers (including now-running back Desmond Gee) are back
along with the top two tight ends and a terrific prospect in
Weakness: Talented number two receiver, inconsistent number one
receiver. Williams has too much talent to not crank out more
yards, more big plays, and far, far more than just one
touchdown. Henry and Grigsby are good, but not special.
Outlook: A major disappointment last season, the
receiving corps should be far more better as long as Joe
Craddock, or whoever's the starting quarterback, plays well.
With so much experience, this is a corps full of safety valves
to go along with a possible home-run hitter like Williams.
Three starters return up front anchored by 6-5, 320-pound junior
Franklin Dunbar at left tackle. The Second Team All-Sun Belt
performer is a bruising run blocker but excelled mostly in pass
protection with one of his best performances coming against Louisville.
A guard when he started out, he got in far better shape over the last
two years and now should be even quicker.
Normally there'd be concern on
the other side needing to replace all-star Germayle Franklin, but junior
David Price should be ready. The former Mississippi State
transfer started a few games last year when Franklin was out and was
rock solid not allowing a sack. At 6-4 and 312 pounds, he's big enough
to play guard, which he used to be, but should shine on the outside in
the full-time role.
At center, long-time starting guard Brandon Nix will be the
line's most aggressive and toughest player. At 6-4 and 296 pounds, he's
a big, pounding run blocker who spend most of last year switching back
and forth between the right and left side. The former defensive lineman
might not be an all-star, but he'll be good in his new spot.
Mark Thompson was a surprising starter throughout his first year
seeing time at left guard before giving up his starting spot late in the
year. Out in spring ball hurt, he'll have to fight to get his job back,
but he has the size at 6-4 and 312 pounds to be a good run blocker in
The biggest body up front is 6-6, 327-pound junior Richard
Bortner, a part-time starter who spent most of his time on special
teams. He can play either guard spot, but he has to prove he can hold
down the job for a full season.
Projected Top Reserves: Until Thompson can prove
he can handle the job at left guard, 6-4, 295-pound redshirt freshman
Jamal Lewis will man the position. One of the team's strongest
players with a 430-pound bench press, he could find a spot at backup
tackle if he doesn't win the starting spot.
Redshirt freshman Chris
Hawkins has great technique and will quickly be a main contributor
behind Lewis on the left side or could find a spot on the right. If the
312-pound Price isn't big enough at right tackle, 6-6, 320-pound
redshirt freshman J.C. Moore is there to add even more bulk. He
needs time and could eventually be moved to guard.
Watch Out For ... Nix to earn all-conference honors
at center. A good guard, he should be even better now that he's the
quarterback up front. He's not the most athletic of linemen and should
be even better in the more confined surroundings.
Strength: Size. This is a massive front five
averaging well over 300 pounds per man. The tackles are among the
biggest in America with the four on the projected two-deep checking in
at an average of 313 pounds.
Weakness: Production. This was a good line, but not a great one
and although three starters return along with several experienced
backups, it's not like they were superstars last season as a whole.
Outlook: Considering the size and the experience,
there should be even more done for the running game. The pass protection
will always be adequate, but with a line this big, especially at tackle,
there should be far more movement up front. Are the tackles too big to
handle speed rushers? Elite ones, yes.