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2009 Tennessee Preview - Offense
Tennessee WR Gerald Jones
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Tennessee Volunteer Offense
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What you need to know:
The Tennessee Volunteers, the school of Peyton Manning, Jamal
Lewis, and could be called Wide Receiver U., finished 11th
in the SEC, and 115th in the nation, in total offense,
107th in the nation in passing, and 107th in
pass efficiency. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will go to a
more powerful running attack with an emphasis on a passing game
that pushes the ball deep. The running backs are in place, with
super-recruits Bryce Brown, David Oku and Toney Williams, to go
along with Montario Hardesty, working behind a massive line that
should be able to lean on defensive fronts without a problem. The
receiving corps struggled last year and suffers a huge hit losing
Austin Rogers to a torn ACL, but it gets back Gerald Jones to
stretch the field. The problem is at
quarterback, where Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens will battle
for the job. Crompton was great in spring ball, but Stephens is
the far better fit for what the coaching staff wants to do.
Passing: Jonathan Crompton
86-167, 889 yds, 4 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Montario Hardesty
76 carries, 271
yds, 6 TD
30 catches, 323 yds, 4 TD
Star of the offense:
Junior WR Gerald Jones
Player who has to step up and
become a star: Sophomore QB Nick Stephens and/or Senior QB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR
Best pro prospect: Senior C Josh McNeil
Top three all-star candidates: 1) WR Gerald Jones, 2)
McNeil, 3) RB Montario Hardesty
Strength of the offense:
Running Backs, Tight End
Weakness of the offense:
Quarterback, Overall Production
In the three-way battle for the starting quarterback job, junior
Nick Stephens might
be the best fit. The 6-4, 227-pound bomber was out for part of
spring ball recovering from a broken wrist that knocked him out
late last year. He took over the starting job midway through the
season and was relatively mistake-free, throwing 106 straight
passes without a pick, and he led the way to wins over Northern
Illinois and Mississippi State. However, his accuracy was a
major issue completing just 49% of his throws for 940 yards and
four touchdowns with three interceptions. Unlike the other
options, Stephens isn’t a runner in any way. With his arm, his
command in the pocket, and his upside as a quarterback to count
on for the next few years, he’ll be the man to beat come fall.
Projected Top Reserve: Senior Jonathan
Crompton had a great spring in 2008 and appeared ready to
take command of the offense and make it shine. It didn’t happen.
He only completed 52% of his throws for 889 yards and four
touchdowns with five interceptions, bottoming out with an
8-of-23, 67-yard day against Auburn. He looked like a new
quarterback this spring hitting every receiver in the numbers
and appearing strong enough to retake his starting job, but the
6-4, 228-pounder will have to do something special to be the No.
1. While he’s not a great runner, he’s mobile enough to take off
from time to time to get the first down. However, his running
skills aren’t enough to be a difference-maker in the race.
6-3, 223-pound sophomore
B.J. Coleman didn’t get much of a chance to show what he
could do last year, completing just 4-of-8 passes for 21 yards
with an interception in the win over Vanderbilt, but he was
being given every shot to win the starting job. Big, strong, and
with a tremendous high school résumé, he had the basics, but he
chose to transfer even though he would’ve been a nice fit for
Watch Out For ... the coaching
staff to cringe a bit every time the quarterback takes a hit.
There’s Stephens coming off a wrist injury and there’s Crompton.
With B.J. Coleman transferring, the No. 3 option might be star
safety Eric Berry or WR Gerald Jones.
Arms. Crompton has a nice arm, while Stephens has an elite one.
In the new offense, pushing the ball downfield will be at a
premium and these two can do it.
Production. Crompton looks like a world-beater in practice but
he struggles in scrimmages and games. Stephens is still a work
in progress and has to show he can lead the offense to scores.
Outlook: The coaching staff didn’t recruit a
quarterback, thinking that the situation wasn’t all that bad.
While the quarterbacks weren’t bad this off-season, Jonathan
Crompton is shaky and Nick Stephens, coming off a broken wrist,
still needs time to develop. Making matters even more muddled
was the loss of B.J. Coleman, who chose to transfer even though
he was arguably the best passer in spring ball. Stephens has the
most upside but Crompton has the experience. Call this a
stop-gap year before Kiffin and his staff puts on the full-court
press to get Jake Heaps or Jesse Scroggins, two of the top
ranked quarterbacks in the 2010 recruiting class.
With Arian Foster gone, the time is now for
Montario Hardesty to
finally show off his flash and become a star. The 6-0, 215-pound
senior was third on the team with 271 rushing yards, but he led
the way with six scores with two coming in the opener against
UCLA. He saw his playing time decrease to nothing over the
second half of last year, but with his pounding, north-south
style, he’s what the new coaching staff is looking for. Step
one, though, is staying healthy suffering a broken leg, and
ankle problem and torn ACL earlier in his career.
offense used the fullback more often last year, and it’ll be a
bigger part of the attack this season. 6-0, 245-pound junior
Kevin Cooper is a big blocker with nice hands catching seven passes
for 42 yards, and running five times for ten yards. Considering
the Vol offense will go to more power running, Cooper could
become a star as a blocker.
Projected Top Reserves: True sophomore
Tauren Poole got to school year with the hope of being a big part of
the offense right away. He wasn’t seeing spot duty in three
games finishing with 86 yards and burning a redshirt in the
process. The two-time Georgia high school player of the year is
a shifty 5-10, 203-pound back who ran for 5,413 yards, and 2,138
as a senior, in his pre-Vol career.
Hardesty and Poole might just by buying time
before the freshmen take over. 6-1, 235-pound
Toney Williams got to
school early and showed tremendous potential with power and a
burst through the hole. Once he’s back from a minor knee
surgery, he can be used as a fullback in bigger formations or
can be a good pounder of a back. He ran for 1,945 yards and 26
touchdowns last season for Milton High in Georgia.
biggest question with the Tennessee running game going into the
fall is whether or not
Bryce Brown was worth it. First he was going to Miami, then
he was talking about going to play in the CFL, and then he
finally decided on Tennessee. Considered by many (along with
CFN) as the nation’s No. 1 recruit, he ran for close to 4,000
yards and 56 touchdowns in his final two years as a Kansas high
school star. At 6-0 and 215, he’s thickly built with tremendous
With the signing of Brown, getting
David Oku was shoved
to the side. Oku would’ve been one of the crown jewels in this
class and would’ve been the star everyone wanted to see, and he
still could be. He got away from Oklahoma and should be a
do-it-all type of back for the Vols with tremendous quickness
and good toughness. He can catch, score, and be used as a return
man, but at 5-10 and 186 pounds he’s not necessarily a grinder.
That’s fine; UT will take his speed.
Backing up Kevin Cooper at fullback will be
Austin Johnson, a
6-2, 234-pound sophomore who was a big-time linebacker recruit
but was quickly moved over to the offensive side. He’s big,
tough, and a blaster of a blocker.
Watch Out For
... the freshmen. Raise your hands if you believe Hardesty is
going to be the featured back for a full season. Put your hand
Strength: The freshmen. Oku
and Williams are good enough by themselves to chirp about the
running back class brought in, but to get Brown, soap opera and
all, was a major coup. If he’s half as good as his hype, or his
drama, he’ll be an immediate star.
Sure-thing tailback. Hardesty can’t be counted on for more than
a few carries a game and Poole is fine, but he’s not the talent
the three incoming freshmen are. With Lennon Creer leaving the
program, the team will have to not only hope for the rookies to
contribute, it’ll have to hope they can produce big-time.
Outlook: The running game was going to shift more
towards the power attack last year, and it did a little bit.
Now, Kiffin wants to pound the ball making big Montario Hardesty
more valuable if he can hold up. The running game will be all
about the true freshmen as Bryce Brown, David Oku, and Toney
Williams will be the stars of the team for the next several
years. For a team that ran for just 1,475 yards and 14
touchdowns last season, the new talent will be a breath of fresh
air. However, this is an unproven bunch that’ll have to take its
lumps without a great passing game to help out.
The rest of the receiving corps might be up for grabs, but 6-0,
199-pound junior Gerald Jones will be the leader of the group after coming up with a
team-high 30 catches for 323 yards and four touchdowns. Great on
kickoff returns and quick enough to be a dangerous runner, with
23 carries for 126 yards and a score last season, he’s one of
the team’s biggest playmaking weapons who’ll be used in a
Wildcat (called the G-Gun last year) formation from time to
It’ll be an
ongoing battle for the receiver spots with everything wide open,
but senior Quintin Hancock appears to be in a leading position to take over one
of the jobs. Expected to be a part of the mix last year, he saw
time in every game, and even got a start, but failed to catch a
pass after making 16 grab for 165 yards and three touchdowns in
2007. A strong special teamer, he’ll find a role somewhere on
the team, and even though he did do anything for the offense
last season, the 6-3, 207-pounder is a big target who should be
ready to make a bid for the No. 1 job.
There will be a strong tight end rotation with junior
Luke Stocker a strong do-it-all playmaker who can be used both as a
blocker and a receiver. At 6-6 and 245 pounds, he’s a big target
with good route running ability catching 12 passes for 139
yards. He has good athleticism for his size and is a bulldozer
of a blocker when needed (even though there are other tight ends
on the roster who hit better).
Projected Top Reserves: One of the
only returning receivers with any real experience was senior
Austin Rogers, a 6-2, 190-pound athletic receiver and spot
starter who caught 56 passes for 624 yards and four scores in
2007, but only made 14 grabs for 180 yards last year. A
phenomenal all-around field stretcher, he’s a reliable playmaker
who’ll be used in three wide sets and behind Gerald Jones.
However, he'll have to come back and shine next year after
suffering a torn ACL this off-season.
Junior Denarius Moore has the 6-1, 190-pound size and the next-level jets.
Now he has to get the ball in his hands more. After a promising
freshman year, catching 14 passes for 212 yards, highlighted by
a big Outback Bowl against Wisconsin, he only made 11 grabs for
271 yards and a score last year. However, he led the team, by
far, with a 24.6 yard-per-catch average helped by a 60-yard play
against Georgia and a 63-yard-score against Kentucky. He’ll be a
much bigger part of the rotation in the new offense.
Former Florida State tight end
Brandon Warren only
caught ten passes for 85 yards last season, but he has the
ability to do so much more. A freshman All-American for the
Seminoles, the 6-2, 216-pound junior is big, physical, and is
able to find the holes in an offense. He’ll rotate with Denarius
Moore and Quintin Hancock at one spot.
Senior tight end Jeff
Cottam has the bulk, at 6-8 and 260 pounds, with good enough
hands to be a major matchup problem. His worth is mainly as a
big, tough blocker who can be used like a third tackle. While he
has receiving skills, catching four passes for 19 yards and a
score in 2007, he didn’t catch any balls last year partly
because he missed half the season recovering from a broken leg.
Watch Out For ... a rotation at the
spot next to Jones. Hancock has the upside, but it’ll be hard to
keep Moore and Warren from being major factors. The coaching
staff will put a premium on pushing the ball deep, meaning Moore
could be a breakout star.
Strength: Tight end.
Cottam and Stocker are both NFL talents who were underutilized
under the past regime. Neither one will hit a home run, but
they’ll each be good blockers for the power running game and
they can each move the chains.
Quarterback. Last year’s receiving corps should’ve been a major
plus, but it wasn’t because no one could throw the ball. There
should be a little bit of an improvement this season, but not
enough make this decent group special.
The poor quarterback play and a bad offense in general led to
the awful season from the receiving corps. There weren’t many
big plays, the receivers didn’t do enough to help the
quarterbacks, and there was little to nothing done after the
catch. This year’s crop of targets has the look of a typical
Tennessee receiving corps with size, speed, and athleticism, but
they need to become better route runners and someone has to
emerge as a scary No. 1 playmaker to make defenses worry.
Projected Starters: The best blocker
on the line, Anthony Parker, is gone after starting the first
half of last season at left guard and the second half on the
right side. Looking to become the rock at left guard will be
Vladimir Richard, a
6-4, 300-pound senior who was a good backup before starting when
Parker moved sides. The former defensive lineman isn’t Parker,
but he’s a tough, smart blocker who’s physical for the ground
Taking over on the right side will be
Jacques McClendon, a
6-3, 324-pound senior who started the first six games of last
year before giving way to Parker. Very smart, he’s a two-time
academic All-SEC performer, and one of the team’s strongest
player, but he has to be more consistent and he has to translate
his weight room strength to the field. With his size and
experience, he’ll be great for the new offense.
blocker of the bunch should be center
Josh McNeil, a 12-game starter last season and an anchor for the
line over the last three seasons starting every week since the
fourth game of his freshman season. At 6-4 and 280 pounds, he’s
not passive, but he’s tough, consistent, and can’t be dragged
off the field no matter how banged up.
Chris Scott is back
at left tackle after starting every game last season. Average in
pass protection last season, after doing a fine job two years
ago, he’s more of a mauler for the running game with the bulk to
play guard and just enough athleticism to get by on the outside.
At 6-4 and 346 pounds, he’s big, too big, but he’s versatile and
can move around where needed. With the offense going more to a
power running game, he should be able to use his talents a bit
Battling for the starting right tackle position
will be Jarrod Shaw, a 6-4, 332-pound junior who saw mop-up time last season
in two games but has the size and potential to be a solid
starter. He needs to prove he can be steady in pass protection,
but with his strength and his bulk, pounding away isn’t a
problem. If needed, he can move inside and play guard, a more
natural spot, if he doesn’t win the tackle gig.
Reserves: Pushing hard for the starting right tackle job
will be Aaron Douglas,
a good tight end prospect who will be used as an athletic
blocker on the outside. Just a redshirt freshman, the 6-6,
280-pounder still has room to grow into his frame and has the
feet to become a key part of the line for the next four years.
As a tight end, he caught 90 passes for 1,435 yards and eight
scores in high school.
While he won’t push Josh McNeil
out of a job, 6-1, 260-pound senior
Cody Sullins could be
a key part of the line. Mostly a center, he saw a little bit of
action last season, but he’ll have a hard time finding work
considering McNeil doesn’t come out. If needed, Sullins can be
used as an athletic, and very smart, undersized option at left
guard behind Richard.
Watch Out For ...
power blocking. The line was phenomenal in pass protection two
years ago with David Cutcliffe as the offensive coordinator, and
it struggled a bit last year to keep the quarterbacks clean.
Part of that was because of the loss of Cutcliffe, and part of
it was because the quarterbacks stunk. Now, the big, beefy line
will blast away for the running game.
Size. This group struggled way too much to open things up for
the ground game, but it has the size and it has the coaching
staff to do more. If things go as planned, the Vols will have a
346-pound left tackle in Scott and a 332-pound right tackle in
Shaw, to go along with the bulk on the inside.
Athletes. This wasn’t a nimble group last season and it
showed when the quarterbacks needed an extra half-second to
produce. There should be plenty of road-grating, but not a lot
of finesse. There could be big problems against athletic, speedy
Outlook: It could be argued that the
downfall of the Vols, relatively speaking, under Phil Fulmer was
the inability of the line to dominate outside of 2007. This
year’s line has a nice mix of size, experience, and upside
considering the offense will revolve more around the power
running attack. Don’t expect miracles at tackle against speed
rushers, but O line coach Jim Chaney has a good group to work
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