Preview 2007 - Offense
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What you need to know:
The return of David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator made a
night-and-day difference in the passing game. Now he needs to
get the running game to do more, and there needs to be even more
from QB Erik Ainge after a nice bounceback year. The receiving
corps loses the top three targets and the line loses the two
best players, so it'll be up to the trio of Arian Foster,
LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty to carry the running game
and the offense. Ainge has to make everyone around him better
until new producers at receiver emerge.
Passing: Erik Ainge
233-348, 2,989 yds, 19 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: LaMarcus Coker
108 carries, 695 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Chris Brown
31 catches, 239 yds, 1 TD
Star of the offense: Senior QB Erik Ainge
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior WR
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore C Josh McNeil
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Chris Brown
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ainge, 2) OG Anthony
Parker, 3) RB Arian Foster
Strength of the offense: Erik Ainge, running backs
Weakness of the offense: Wide receivers, offensive line
Projected Starter: After a lousy sophomore
season, 6-6, 220-pound senior Erik Ainge blew up and
became one of the SEC's best quarterbacks, completing 67% of his
passes for 2,989 yards and 19 touchdowns with nine
interceptions. With NFL size, a live arm, and an offensive
coordinator in David Cutcliffe who's saved his career, Ainge
could be the best Tennessee passer since Peyton Manning, and if
he improves his decision making skills even more, could be a
first day draft pick. He hurt his knee this off-season, but he
should be back and ready to roll by the opener.
Projected Top Reserve: When Ainge got banged up a
bit, sophomore Jonathan Crompton stepped in and got big
playing time in two of the biggest games of the season.
Unfortunately, he got thrown to the wolves against LSU and
Arkansas and struggled, while finishing the season completing 31
of 66 passes for 401 yards with four touchdowns and two
interceptions. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, he has good size, and far,
far more mobility than Ainge.
Third in the mix is 6-4, 215-pound redshirt freshman Nick
Stephens, a decent prospect who won't see time unless
there's a major emergency. He'll work on the scout team and will
need to grow over the next year to become a challenger for the
Watch Out For ... Ainge to be asked to do even
more in the offense, even if the stats aren't always there. He's
the star, he's the veteran, and he's the one who'll have to make
everyone around him better.
Strength: Experience. Ainge is the rare four-year
starter who has seen it all and has been through the ringer. He
knows what he's doing, as doest Crompton, to a far lesser
Weakness: The receivers. While Ainge did a good job of
putting the ball in the right spots, his receiving corps made
him look fantastic. It's easy to become a star when Robert
Meachem takes a short pass for mega yards time and again. Ainge
won't have that luxury this year.
Erik Ainge might be the SEC's best quarterback, and he'll
have to play like it with so much uncertainty in the passing
game. He'll have to hold up for a full season, and he'll have to
be solid in the bigger games against the better teams, but he
has the talent and the experience to be great. Jonathan Crompton
will need a little more work to be ready for next year.
Projected Starter: Never quite right last year
thanks to an ankle problem, 6-1, 225-pound junior Arian
Foster failed to build on a great freshman season and
finished third on the team with 322 yards and five touchdowns.
While he's been a good part of the rotation, he showed this
spring that he's ready to be the number one back with good moves
and decisive cuts that he didn't have last season. While he's
not going to hit any home runs, he can tear off yards in chunks
once he gets into a lather.
Projected Top Reserves: Last year's leading
rusher, 5-11, 195-pound sophomore LaMarcus Coker, will
get his share of starts after a nice 696-yard, five touchdown
season with a 6.4 yard-per-carry average. He ripped up the
mediocre teams, with 100-yard games against Marshall, Memphis
and Vanderbilt, but he was banged up at times and was all but
shut down by the better defenses. One of the team's fastest
players, the former Tennessee state high school champion
sprinter needs to be fed the ball over and over again.
6-0, 205-pound Montario Hardesty isn't as fast as Coker,
but he's flashier than Foster. While he didn't come up with many
big games, he was second on the team with 384 yards and four
scores. Knee injuries have been a problem, and he saw his role
diminished to almost nothing over the second half of last
season, and now he's poised to have a nice year in the rotation.
He's not a workhorse, but he can handle the ball ten times a
game and be effective.
Watch Out For ... Foster. He looked like he could
grow into a dependable, special type of workhorse two years ago,
and now he appears to be healthy. He has the same punch he
showed earlier in his career.
Strength: The rotation. Foster is the power and Coker
and Hardesty provide the speed. There's way too much talent and
way too much overall pop for the running game to be as bad as it
was last year.
Weakness: A sure-thing number one. The combination of
talents might be nice, but Foster hasn't proven he can handle a
full-season workload, Hardesty has had knee problems, and Coker
hasn't been a workhorse. Everyone has to be better.
While the passing game took over the offense, and the
line wasn't much of a help, the running game was lousy,
finishing 96th in the nation averaging 108 yards per carry.
There's too much talent for another bad year, and with the
potential problems with the receiving corps, the trio of Arian
Foster, LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty will have to
carry the attack for a while. There's good enough to do that.
Projected Starters: A number one target has to
quickly emerge. The most likely new main man is junior Lucas
Taylor, a phenomenal athlete who can jump out of the stadium
and potentially be the playmaker who racks up big yards after
the catch. The talent is there, but he has to prove he can be a
go-to guy after catching just 14 passes for 101 yards.
Stepping up into a starting role will be 6-2, 185-pound
sophomore Austin Rogers, a typical tremendous Tennessee
athlete who can move. While he looks the part of a top receiver,
he needs to come out roaring this fall or he'll quickly be
replaced in the starting rotation.
With the problems and concerns in the receiving corps, the Vols
will use two tight end sets more often than not. The best of the
group is 6-3, 250-pound senior Chris Brown after
finishing fourth on the team with 31 catches for 239 yards and a
score. He's fast and has nice hands, and he could be the team's
top third down receiver.
6-8, 270-pound senior Brad Cottom is more of a third
tackle than a receiver, but he caught 14 passes for 182 yards
and should be used even more. With his size, along with his
great hands, he'll create plenty of matchup problems.
Projected Top Reserves: Several prospects will get
a shot at starting, led by 6-3, 200-pound sophomore Quintin
Hancock, who caught two passes for 29 yards. One of spring
ball's better receivers, he'll be in the mix when the Vols go to
three-wide sets, and will push Rogers for time.
Star JUCO transfer Kenny O'Neal is a ready-made receiver
who should get to fall camp and push immediately for starting
time. He's 6-0, 195 pounds and can grow into a gamebreaker.
First, he has to show he can be reliable after getting kicked
out at Florida State, where he caught five passes for 110 yards.
True freshman Ahmad Paige is a 6-3, 175-pound athlete
who's more physical than his weight might suggest. He's too
talented a prospect to redshirt, as is fellow true freshman,
Gerald Jones, the 2006 Oklahoma Player of the year. One of
the team's star recruits, he's fantastic in the open field and
speed enough to stretch the field.
Sophomore Jeff Cottam, the younger brother of Brad Cottam,
stepped up in spring ball and started to become a major factor.
Like his brother, he's huge at 6-8 and 260 pounds, and will see
plenty of time playing behind Brown. He's a great blocker.
Watch Out For ... the newcomers. Don't get too
comfortable with the depth chart. O'Neal, Jones and Paige will
likely be the starters sooner than later.
Strength: Tight end. Brown should flourish now that he's
the one reliable weapon the coaching staff can go to, while the
Cottam brothers are each going to play huge roles.
Weakness: Proven wide receiver production. There isn't
any. Lucas Taylor is the only one who's done anything so far,
and he's hardly the type of star who'll make defenses quake.
Tennessee had a slew of superstar prospects that didn't quite
live up to their billing, and then that all changed last season
as Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith were terrific,
with Meachem turning in an All-America caliber season. Now the
Vols are starting from scratch, and even though there are good
talents waiting in the wings, it might take at least a year to
develop them. The tight ends will be the focus early on until a
dependable starting receiver rotation can be found.
Projected Starters: It's time for senior Eric
Young to break out. He's 6-4, 305 pounds, strong and very
talented, but he hasn't lived up to his immense promise yet. He
started every game at right tackle and had a decent season, and
now he needs to have a dominant one despite missing spring ball
with a shoulder problem. He'll start out on the right side
again, but he could move over to the left side to replace top
lineman Arron Sears.
The star of the line will likely be 6-3, 305-pound junior
Anthony Parker, a versatile blocker who could play center if
desperately needed but will shine at right guard. He had a few
problems with a knee injury, and now he's back and ready to
become one of the SEC's best all-around blockers.
Starting again at center is 6-4, 280-pound sophomore Josh
McNeil after a decent first season. He struggled at times
with his consistency, but he showed flashes of talent and is
expected to grow into one of the team's best linemen over the
next few years. First, he has to beef up a bit and get a little
The left side is the sticky point. For now, unless Young moves
in, 6-5, 300-pound sophomore Chris Scott will start at
left tackle after getting in better shape over the last year. A
key reserve throughout the season, he needs to shine right away
to keep Young at his more natural spot. After a good spring, he
should hang on to the job.
One of the team's most improved linemen over the last year is
6-6, 325-pound junior Ramon Foster after getting a few
starts and seeing time in almost every game. A terrific athlete,
he's a little leaner and should be better on the move.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 330-pound sophomore
Jacques McClendon is one of the team's bigger linemen and
should see time at both guard spots. He started in the Outback
Bowl for Parker and will see starting time somewhere over the
next few years. At the very least, he'll be one of the team's
Looking to push Scott for the starting left tackle job will be
redshirt freshman Ramon Johnson, an up and coming
prospect with 6-5, 310-pound size and good feet. He needs to
show right away that he can become a reliable backup.
Watch Out For ... Young to move around. The line
needs experience at left tackle and needs Scott to either be a
star, or else there will be some flip-flopping. Young might not
be a star yet, but he's the team's best tackle going into the
Strength: The right side ... at the moment. If Young
stays and right tackle, he'll pair with Parker, a rising star
who should earn All-SEC honors, to give the Vols a rock of a
right side to work with.
Weakness: Consistent run production. This wasn't a bad
line last year in pass protection, but it didn't do enough game
in and game out to blast things open for the ground game. That
might be the same problem early on.
It won't be a dominant line, but it'll be good enough to win
with. A big disappointment over the last few years, the line has
to somehow be better and more consistent despite losing Aaron
Sears and Josh McNeil, the team's best linemen. There's size,
potential and experience, but it's time for Eric Young to grow
into a star, and sophomores Chris Scott and Josh McNeil need to
play like veteran blockers.