2008 Tennessee Preview - Offense
Tennessee RB Arian Foster
Tennessee RB Arian Foster
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Tennessee Volunteer Offense

Tennessee Volunteers

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Tennessee Preview | 2008 Tennessee Offense
- 2008 Tennessee Defense | 2008 Tennessee Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Tennessee Preview | 2006 CFN Tennessee Preview 

What you need to know: Welcome to the Dave Clawson era. The former Richmond head coach has taken over the offensive coordinator reins from David Cutcliffe and while he's not going to overhaul the solid attack, he's going to change things up a bit. He'll add more to the running game giving the offensive line a chance to be more physical and use more power than it did under the Cutcliffe finesse attack. Fortunately he has the line to do it. The Vols won't give up just four sacks again, but it'll do more for the running game and with five starters returning and a slew of good backups, it should be dominant. Lucas Taylor and the receiving corps are promising, and Arian Foster leads a strong group of running backs who should thrive with the new tweaks. And then there's the quarterback. Can Jonathan Crompton be the player he was throughout spring ball? If so, the offense will be unstoppable. The only real concern is at fullback where David Holbert was supposed to help the power game before hurting his knee. Kevin Cooper needs to be the blocker who helps add more balance to the offense.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Jonathan Crompton
7-12, 97 yds, 1TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Arian Foster
245 carries, 1,193 yds, 12 TD
Receiving: Lucas Taylor
73 catches, 1,000 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Arian Foster
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore FB Kevin Cooper
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Lennon Creer
Best pro prospect: Senior OG Anthony Parker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Foster, 2) Parker, 3) OT Chris Scott
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, receivers, running backs
Weakness of the offense:
Proven quarterback, fullback

Projected Starter: Does Jonathan Crompton really want it? That was the main question going into the off-season for a talented prospect who didn't always show off the best work ethic. At least that was the perception. That all changed this spring as the junior took over the leadership role and showed that he could be the type of quarterback to revolve the offense around. He only got a little bit of work last season completing seven of 12 passes for 97 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, but he's an experienced veteran with a good arm and nice mobility. At 6-4 and 220 pounds he has the size, and he's not afraid to use it to get the hard yards. While that Tim Tebow-like ability is nice, the team needs him to make everyone around him better like Erik Ainge was able to do.

Projected Top Reserve: With Crompton taking the starting job by the horns, that led sophomore Nick Stephens looking to solidify himself as the No. 2 man in the mix, The 6-4, 215 pounder has worked with the scout team but he doesn't have any playing time to count on. He improved this spring, but he didn't do anything to stand out and show he can be the No. 1

6-3, 210-pound redshirt freshman B.J. Coleman has the high school résumé and has the potential to be the main man down the road, but he'll spend the year looking for mop up duty. He has the arm and the potential to push Nick Stephens for the No. 2 job, but he'll likely work mostly with the scout team.

Watch Out For ... the backups to be thrown into the mix sooner than later. Crompton takes too many chances with his body and is too physical a runner to stay healthy for a full season. He's tough, and that could mean Stephens or Coleman will be thrown into the mix sooner than later.
Passers. All three options can throw extremely well and should get plenty of time to operate. The O line will make them look better than they actually are, but they'll make the throws since plays will get time to develop.
Experience. Crompton wasn't all that great when he had his chances to shine, and while he appears to be a new player, the season is relying on him staying healthy. Stephens and Coleman aren't ready to win an SEC East title with.
Considering Crompton had elbow surgery, there's reason to be concerned. Very concerned.
Crompton might not be Erik Ainge, but he appears to be the real deal and ready to make a huge jump up in production. He doesn't have to do it all by himself in this offense, but he'll have to be steady and he'll have to keep the chains moving. Stephens and Coleman are fine, but they need more time and seasoning.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starter: Never considered an elite SEC back, mainly due to injuries, senior Arian Foster came up with a huge season as the main man for the ground game ripping off 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns with five 100-yard days. He also turned into a fantastic receiver catching 39 passes for 340 yards and a score. The 6-1, 215-pounder is being talked about as a first round draft pick next year with the cutback ability and quickness to go along with his size. He's not necessarily a home run hitter, but he's good at getting to the second level and can tear off yards in chunks. He'll have to change up his running style a little bit in the new offense, he'll be used in more power sets than last year and he should thrive. Only 685 yards away from being Tennessee's all-time rushing leader, he should have few problems getting it if he stays healthy.

Unlike last year under former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, the Vols will use a fullback more often. 6-0, 240-pound sophomore Kevin Cooper likely won't see any carries, but he's a big blocker who needs to step up in the starting role after projected starter David Holbert went down with a knee injury. A special teamer so far, the spotlight will be on Cooper.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 210-pound junior Montario Hardesty has a little bit of flash and a decent résumé as a No. 2 back finishing behind Arian Foster last year with 373 yards and three touchdowns, but he got hurt in spring ball suffering a broken leg. The star-crossed runner suffered a torn ACL in 2005 and wasn't 100% last year with an ankle injury. He's never going to be a workhorse, but he's a good backup for a few carries here and there.

Hardesty's injury opened the door for sophomore Lennon Creer, a great looking 6-1, 210-pounder who finished third on the team with 214 yards and a touchdown with a gaudy 5.9-yard-per-carry average. A sprinter who was one of the top relay runners in Texas, he can crank out big runs from anywhere on the field and did a little of that this spring when he got the opportunity. He'll see time as a kickoff returner as well as a key reserve running back after averaging 29.5 yards per try highlighted by a 50-yarder against LSU in the SEC title game.

5-10, 200-pound true freshman Tauren Poole got to school early and established himself as a possible option in the mix. The two-time Georgia player of the year ran for 5,413 yards including 2,138 as a senior. He's a shifty little back who'll be an occasional change of pace and could see mop-up duty if he doesn't redshirt.

The fullback job was supposed to go to 6-1, 250-pound senior David Hobert, but he tore up his knee in spring ball. Now Kevin Cooper is the starter with true freshman Austin Johnson looking to make an impact. A big-time linebacker from North Carolina, he was needed on the offensive side and is undergoing a trial by fire. He'll need a while before he figures out what he's doing, but he's 6-2, 242 pounds and physical.

Watch Out For ... Creer. He's not a threat to move Foster out of a starting spot, but he's good enough to get ten carries a game and carry the offense for a game or two.
Production. Tennessee always has good backs, and it has another possible first rounder in Foster and Creer looks like a keeper. If and when Hardesty is back and healthy, the backfield will be loaded with options.
Fullbacks. Everything depended on David Holbert being the man in the backfield, but his knee injury forced the Vols to go to a plan B. Kevin Cooper and Austin Johnson had better produce or the power running game will take a backseat.
The passing game dominated the offense under Cutcliffe, but with backs like Foster, Creer and Hardesty, the focus of the offense will shift back to a more balanced attack with the running game doing more. Foster isn't a special back, but he's really good; the offense can rely on him to carry things until Jonathan Crompton and the passing game gets going. The Vols won't be ninth in the SEC in rushing again.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: It's not an overstatement to suggest the key to the 2007 season was the emergence of Lucas Taylor as a bona fide No. 1 target. The Vols lost all their star receivers from the 2006 season and Taylor filled the void with a fantastic 73-catch, 1,000-yard, five touchdown season despite being academically ineligible for the Outback Bowl win over Wisconsin. When he was on, he was unstoppable torching Mississippi State for 11 catches for 186 yards and a score, but he wasn't a consistent scorer with two of his touchdowns coming against Arkansas State.  At 6-0 and 185 pounds he's not that big, but he can move and he can jump out of the stadium.

Senior Josh Briscoe tied for second on the team with 56 catches for 557 yards, and he tied for the team lead with six touchdown catches. The 6-3, 183-pounder was a minor surprise, but he turned into a steady, realiable No. 2 man who came through big late in the year with 15 catches for 180 yards and two scores combined against LSU and Wisconsin.

Junior Austin Rogers tied with Briscoe for second on the team behind Taylor with 56 catches, but he stretched things out a bit more than Briscoe with 624 yards and four scores. The 6-2, 185 pounder is a phenomenal athlete who has the tools to do a lot more. He had a key three game stretch in November when he caught a touchdown pass against Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and he was a reliable weapon throughout.

The team's next great tight end appears to be junior Jeff Cottam, a 6-8, 260-pound monster who caught four passes for 19 yards and a touchdown. A huge blocker with decent hands, he should get more passes his way Chris Brown and his 41 catches and six touchdowns gone. While he'll be in a rotation with Luck Stocker, he'll be a big part of the passing game.

Projected Top Reserves: Josh Briscoe might be a solid veteran, but it was 6-0, 185-pound sophomore Gerald Jones who turned the most heads this off-season. He's not a big receiver and he's hardly imposing, but he makes the highlight reel catches and is expected to play a huge role this year after making 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Battling Austin Rogers for playing time is 6-3, 200-pound junior Quintin Hancock, a dangerous prospect who appears ready to make more of an impact after catching 16 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns. One of the stars of spring ball, he showed he deserves more passes his way. While he didn't do much last year, he caught a 40-yard scoring grab in the fourth overtime in the seminal win over Kentucky.

Sophomore Denarius Moore came up with a nice freshman season as a key reserve making 14 catches for 212 yards with a 15.1 yard-per-catch average. He came through big when suspensions hit making four grabs for 86 yards in the Outback Bowl win over Wisconsin, and with his tremendous speed and potential, he could be used as a home-run hitter behind Lucas Taylor as well as a kick returner.

While Jeff Cottam might be the future star at tight end, sophomore Luke Stocker isn't far behind, if at all. The 6-6, 245-pounder caught four passes for 11 yards and a touchdown in a reserve role and showed this off-season that he's ready to become a huge part of the offense. He might not be the blocker that Cottam is, but he's not going to shy away from contact.

Watch Out For ... the tight ends. Chris Brown was phenomenal last year catching 41 passes for 282 yards and six touchdowns. While he was a good possession target and great around the goal line, Jeff Cottam and Luke Stocker should be better overall, at least with a bit more experience, and will stretch the field a bit.
Fast veterans and backup options. What was there to worry about last year? This is Tennessee; it cranks out stud receivers off an assembly line. Lucas Taylor stepped up and Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe were excellent. Now there's depth to rely on with players like Denarius Moore, Gerald Jones and Quintin Hancock ready to push for starting roles.
A sure-thing deep threat. The Tennessee attack relied on getting the ball to the receivers on the move and letting them do something with it. Robert Meachem was phenomenal at that two years ago, and while last year's receivers were solid, they didn't crank out that many big plays. The speed and talent is there to do more deep, but now the production has to follow.
A potential weakness of last year should now be a strength. Taylor is a true No. 1 target with at least five good players around him to take the attention away. That doesn't count the tight ends who should be fantastic. The key will be to see how this group produces with a new quarterback. Erik Ainge made everyone look great, and now the corps has to return the favor to Jonathan Crompton.
Rating: 8

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: Senior Anthony Parker, an All-American and All-SEC performer at left guard last season, will play around with his position this year seeing time at both guard and center. The 6-3, 300-pounder got over issues with a knee injury that kept him back a few years ago and turned into one of the nation's best all around blockers. A devastating road grater for the running game, he's quick enough to handle any interior pass rusher. He's a special player who'll be a multi-millionaire very soon.

Next to Parker on the left side will once again be junior Chris Scott, a 6-5, 310-pound mauler who stepped in for an injured Eric Young over the second half of last season after starting out at right guard. Able to play any position on the line, Scott will move where needed but will stay outside as much as possible. While not a top talent like Parker is, he's a fantastic pass blocker who should get all-star recognition this season.

6-4, 280-pound junior Josh McNeil is back for his third season at center with 23 straight starts under his belt. While he's not a huge blocker, he became more and more consistent as last season went on and became phenomenal in pass protection. Tough as nails, he played hurt throughout the year and spent the off-season healing up. He's an all-star waiting to happen.

While several players will move around from time to time, 6-6, 325-pound senior Ramon Foster is a right tackle. While he's good in pass protection and is a good athlete, he needs to keep his weight in check and might turn out to make some money at the next level at guard. Toughness isn't a problem after holding up throughout the year with a busted thumb.

The right guard job will go to Jacques McClendon early on, but he'll have to battle to hold on to the gig. The 6-3, 320-pound junior started the final five games of last year when Chris Scott moved to tackle and was more than fine. He made one of the signature plays of the year with a fumble recovery to save a late drive on the way to the overtime win over South Carolina, but he was more than that. A smart player who doesn't make mistakes, now he's expected to become a monster of a run blocker.

Projected Top Reserves: If Chris Scott moves from tackle back to guard, 6-5, 315-pound sophomore Ramone Johnson
should be ready to step in. A very big, very promising prospect who'll eventually be a top starter, he'll start out as a key backup at left tackle and will see plenty of time in the rotation. He'll be an all-star before his career is over.

Anthony Parker could see a bit of time at center, and Vladimir Richard is a decent veteran able to start at right guard when needed. The 6-4, 300-pound junior isn't in Parker's class, but he's been a good backup at either guard spot and can beat people up in the running game. The former defensive lineman is a smart, tough blocker who will be a regular starter at some point over the next two years.

Watch Out For ... plenty of reshuffling throughout the year. Phil Fulmer likes versatile linemen who can fill in the gaps when injuries or other problems arise so he can always have the best five blockers on the line. Watch for more backups to see time whenever remotely possible to get more seasoning.
Pass protection. Give some credit to the system, give some credit to the coaching staff, and give some credit to Erik Ainge, but the line really did a fantastic job in pass protection allowing a mere four sacks. Four. With all the experience returning, there's no reason for things to slip that much, even with the new offensive coordinator and quarterback.
Consistent run production. With all the size and all the veterans returning, there's no reason the running game should average just 4.2 yards again. Making the overall rushing production even more mediocre was the pass protection. Usually teams that finish around 73rd in the nation in rushing has problems with sack totals bringing things down. That's hardly the case here. Spring ball did nothing to show that this group can pound on anyone.
A monster disappointment over the last several years, the Vol front five was fantastic last season in pass protection and was decent, but not great, for the ground attack. Now the line should be phenomenal with five returning starters and a few good backups ready to step in and start when needed. This is an extremely versatile, very good line that'll give the skill guys all the time they want to operate.
Rating: 9