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2009 Tennessee Preview - Offense
Tennessee WR Gerald Jones
Tennessee WR Gerald Jones
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 6, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Tennessee Volunteer Offense

Tennessee Volunteers

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Tennessee Preview | 2009 Tennessee Offense
- 2009 Tennessee Defense | 2009 Tennessee Depth Chart
- 2008 CFN UT Preview | 2007 CFN UT Preview | 2006 CFN UT Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Jonathan Crompton
86-167, 889 yds, 4 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Montario Hardesty
76 carries, 271  yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Gerald Jones
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 Jonathan Crompton
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Denarius Moore
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

Quarterbacks
 
Projected Starter: 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 the job.

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.
Strength
:
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.
Weakness
:
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.
Rating: 6

Running Backs


Projected Starter: 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.

The 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.

The 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 cutback ability.

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 down, Montario.
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.
Weakness
:
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.
Rating: 7

Receivers

Projected Starters: 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 time.

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.
Weakness
:
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.
Outlook: 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.
Rating: 7

Offensive Linemen

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 game.

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.

The best 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.

Senior 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 better.

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.
 
Projected Top 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.
Strength
:
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.
Weakness
:
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 lines.
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 with.
Rating: 7.5