One thing about the Tennessee Vols has become clear this offseason--the offensive side of the ball seems to have most of the talent on this team. But, somehow, zero offensive players were named to the pre-season Coaches All-SEC team this past week. Many speculate that Tyler Bray and company will have to outscore other teams to be able to win games. Shootouts never seem to be a good thing for Tennessee.
With most of the senior leadership gone on the offensive side of the ball, Tauren Poole is the only senior starter that has been at Tennessee for four years.
The gunslinger at quarterback has brought new life to the Volunteer offense, and having big possession receivers on the edge will help tremendously.
One thing the Vols' need to improve on still is the ability to run the ball consistantly. Fortunately, having an improved passing game opens up the run for an All-SEC caliber running back in Poole.
With an improved and more experienced offensive line, the Volunteer offense should be able to put up big numbers with no problem.
Wide receiver- The receiver position is one that is full of talent, but there is a lack of depth that many do not see. Having only seven scholarship receivers can create a problem.
Guys like Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers seemed to be the only 'proven' receivers so far. However, guys like Vincent Dallas, Matt Milton, and DeAnthony Arnett seem to bring a lot of upside at the position this season.
Zach Rogers: The one-time starter has fallen back on the depth chart to some young talent. Nevertheless, the Nashville junior is ready to take back the slot position that is lacking a quality playmaker right now. Many project Rogers to fulfill the role, but I believe either one of the incoming freshman (DeAnthony Arnett or Vincent Dallas) will be able to secure the spot before the end of the season.
Da'Rick Rogers: The five-star recruit from Calhoun, Georgia showed some of that "five-star" flash last year. Having big runs on the the end around and on kick off returns, Rogers is set for a breakout year.
That 6'3" 215-pound frame is an advantage for Rogers. He is the most physical receiver on the team, and will be a great playmaker.
Even though he really didn't get many opportunities catching the ball last year, Rogers will be the top receiver before the end of the 2011 season. He is a deep ball threat and should allow Tennessee to take advantage of SEC defenses this season.
Offensive Line - Last season watching the offensive line was difficult to stomach. But, with a year under their belt, the improved line should be able to keep Bray off the turf and open up more holes for the senior running back.
There are still some holes to fill at the left guard position. Coming out of spring early enrollee (Vero Beach, Florida) Marcus Jackson seemed to prevail as the starter. However, redshirt sophomore JerQuari Schofield still has his own case to make for the starting left guard position.
Dallas Thomas: The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native is returning to his left tackle starting position. His being the most experienced guy on the line showed last season. He is arguably one of the better lineman in pass protection as well. Having a lot of pressure from incoming freshamn Antonio "Tiny" Richardson should dictate how hard he works during fall camp.
Alex Bullard: The Notre Dame transfer has showed how versaltile and productive he can be. Tranfering this spring due to his fathers death, Bullard was cleared by the NCAA to be eligable for the 2011 season. With the addition of Bullard, the Vols' can move him to multiple positions like center, tackle or even guard for that matter. Given the fact the offensive line starters are so call 'set', Bullard will be one of the guys that can step in and play without the Vols' line missing a beat.
Tight End - The once high quality positon has now been left to guys who have very little experience. The loss of Luke Stocker has now left the position to guys who have only played one season of SEC football and a couple of incoming freshman. Mychael Rivera played some quality downs last season, but he still has not shown the needed consistency.
Stocker made big plays when big plays were needed. His skills graduated him to the NFL and the Vols are left in need of another play maker. However, incoming freshman Cam Clear is a huge versaltile tight end.
Clear can definitely be a big time play maker down near the goal line with his 6'6" frame. Yet, the position doesn't have a lot of depth and the Vols must avoid the injury-bug to have a successful year.
Brenden Downs: Enrolling early in the spring will help the Bristol, Tennessee native have the edge over the other incoming freshman Cam Clear. However, Downs is a true possession tight end and showed spurts of it in the Orange and White game in April.
Downs or Clear will battle it out for the second spot on the depth chart behind Mychael Rivera which will be key since Dooley likes running a two tight end set. Only time will tell how the early enrolle will contribute to the Volunteers offense.
Running Back - The running back position seemed to take a step back when you consider the talent. While Tauren Poole has had his moments, he still has not been as impressive as you would want in your starting running back in the SEC.
With the departure of David Oku, the rotation will be filled wiith unproven youngsters. Rajion Neal showed great speed and power in the Music City Bowl last December and is a no brainer for the second guy in the rotation.
However, the third guy in the rotation has yet to be decided. Toney Williams showed some of his UnderArmour All-American abilities this spring, but he's not a sure choice for the Vols. Signing three guys this past signing class means one of the three may have that opportunity.
Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement at the position as we speak.
Marlin Lane: The 6'1" 210-pound four-star from Florida comes to Knoxville with a lot of question marks. Tearing his ACL in his juior year is the main concern.
Is he healthy enough? Many think he is after his strong showing in the summer workout program. If Lane is truly healthy the Vols' might have one of the top backs out the 2011 class. Lane has great balance and can be very explosive in the future for the Vols.
Devrin Young: The Knoxville product is one of those guys you want to see be successful. Being from Knoxville, many think Young can produce early in the special teams game. However, being 5'7" 165-pounds doesn't help his case.
A redshirt would help tremendously, but Young has enough talent and speed to be a threat in the return game. He is a north-south runner and many hope that he can live up to what is expected.
Fullback - Last season, the position really wasn't a big factor in the offense until true freshman Channing Fugate stepped into the starting role. The one time 3000 yard rusher in high school, has yet to be able to get his carries to be able to be a big part of the offense.
Dooley has already mentioned how he would like Fugate to have the opportunity this season to be able to run the ball and be used as a weapon in the passing game as well. If Dooley lives up to his word, Fugate would be a big help for Bray when needed to get the ball off quick during a pass rush.
Quarterback - The struggles at the start of the season last year seemed to center around the inconsistant play of Matt Simms. However, with Tyler Bray calling the signals the Vols' seem to throw the ball out more and use the big play makers on the outside.
With Bray improving everyday the staff will give him more options to do 'his thing' which would be making big time throws down the field in situations.
True freshman and Gatorade Player of the Year Justin Worley showed his cannon of an arm in the spring game in April. But a redshirt should be expected for Worley.
Tyler Bray: The guy everyone seems to love. The 6'6" skinny kid from Kingsburg, California is now the one calling the signals for the Volunteers.
Stepping in last season in the last five games, Bray showed off his talents against the weakest part of the schedule. Being named to the O'Brien Watch List brings high expectations for the rising sophomore.