SEC: Zach Fulton

SEC Week 2: Did you know?

September, 6, 2013
We're in the swing of things now. With Week 1 in the books, it’s time to take a look at some notes from the SEC and ESPN Stats & Info to get you prepared for the second full week of college football:
  • A total of 10 players from the SEC rushed for 100 yards or more in their opening games, including both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins of Arkansas.
  • Since 2006, the SEC has posted the highest nonconference winning percentage (regular season & bowls) of any conference. The league has a 333-74 record (81.8 winning percentage).
  • With the start of the NFL season upon us, a quick look around the league reveals that the SEC has had more of its former players on NFL rosters in the last five seasons than any other conference. Since 2006, the SEC has averaged 266.1 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters. The league had a high of 257 players on NFL rosters last year, compared to the second highest ACC with 226.
  • Florida is now 13-0 under coach Will Muschamp when rushing for 150 or more yards.
  • The Gators have allowed two rushes of 50 yards or longer in the last 10 seasons combined, three fewer than any other FBS team. Last week, the Gators allowed a total of 50 yards on the ground and just one rush of 10 yards or longer.
  • Jadeveon Clowney recorded only three tackles in South Carolina’s season opener against North Carolina, but he still had an impact on the game. He had three total pressures, which brings his total number to 31 over the last two seasons, tying him with former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones for tops in the SEC.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is going to miss his top target, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who's out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Murray completed 72 percent of his passes thrown to Mitchell, compared to 59 percent when targeting his other receivers.
  • It's been pointed out time and again, and we're going to continue bringing it up until it changes: Murray is 3-11 against ranked opponents in his career. He's 0-3 all-time against South Carolina. Murray's 46.0 QBR against the Gamecocks is the lowest of any team in the SEC East.
  • Your SEC leaders in Raw QBR aren't what you might expect as Arkansas’ Brandon Allen led the charge with a 91.6 rating, followed by Missouri’s James Franklin, Texas A&M’s Matt Joeckel and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. Last season Mettenberger ranked 12th out of 13 SEC quarterbacks in QBR.
  • Mettenberger's numbers could improve again versus UAB, which allowed 319 yards passing from Troy quarterback Corey Robinson, who set a NCAA record completing 93.8 percent of his passes (30-for-32).
  • Auburn is now 194-1 all-time when scoring 30 points or more against non-SEC opponents. The Tigers defeated Arkansas State in both previous matchups, with each victory coming by at least 26 points.
  • Ole Miss is 149-82-7 (.641 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September, including a 3-2 record last year.
  • Arkansas hosts Samford in its home away from home, War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, where the Razorbacks are 166-67-4 (.709) all-time.
  • Hogs coach Bret Bielema wanted to cut down on penalties during his first offseason, and the Razorbacks’ did just that on Saturday, accounting for all of four penalties vs. Louisiana -- the fewest in a season opener since 2008.
  • UK had 11 first-time starters in its season-opening loss to the Hilltoppers, which is a school record for first-time starters in a game according to records kept back to the 1993 season. A total of 10 newcomers (six true freshmen) saw action.
  • Tennessee is 7-0 all-time vs. current Sun Belt schools, including two wins last season (51-13 over Georgia State, 55-48 over Troy).
  • The Vols offensive line has a total of 129 career starts, led by Ja’Wuan James with 38 and Zach Fulton with 29.
  • Tennessee's 45-0 win in Week 1 marked the first shutout for UT since a 27-0 win over Middle Tennessee on Nov. 5, 2011.
  • The Aggies gained 486 total yards against Rice last week, which marked the 13th straight game that the offense has surpassed the 400-yard plateau, which is easily the longest streak in school history. Only Baylor has a longer streak of 400-yard offensive game among FBS teams. Since head coach Kevin Sumlin’s arrival in College Station, the Aggies have surpassed 400 in 13-of-14 games, including 500-plus yards eight times.
  • Missouri's Gary Pinkel coached Toledo’s through the 2000 season, and left for Columbia as the Rockets’ winningest coach in school history, with a 73-37-3 record in 10 seasons. Pinkel, who was inducted into Toledo's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, led the Rockets to a MAC title and claimed three other MAC West Division championships.
  • It took 659 days, but Missouri junior running back Henry Josey, returning from a knee injury, picked up where he left off at Faurot Field this past weekend, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in Mizzou’s 58-14 victory over Murray State.
  • Vanderbilt saw Austin Carta-Samuels become just the second quarterback in Vanderbilt history to pass for 300 yards or more in a season opener on Saturday. The last time a Commordores quarterback hit that mark was when Greg Zolman threw for 300 yards in the 2001 opener against Middle Tennessee.
  • Jordan Matthews' 178-yard effort versus Ole Miss was the most by a Vanderbilt receiver since Earl Bennett amassed 223 receiving yards against Richmond in 2007.

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 21 days

August, 8, 2013
There's no substitute for talent, experience and depth on the offensive line. Great offensive lines have a way of making ordinary skill players look a lot better than they are.

The jury is still out on what kind of firepower Tennessee will have on offense this season after losing their top four pass-catchers from a year ago and their starting quarterback, but the Vols should be plenty stout up front. That's always a good place to start in this league, which leads us to our latest number as we count down the days to kickoff: 123.
Butch Jones takes over a Tennessee program that has suffered through three straight losing seasons, and while there are glaring question marks at several different positions, the offensive line isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s hard to find a more experienced offensive line anywhere in college football entering the 2013 season. Four full-time starters return up front for the Vols, and all four are likely to play in the NFL. Counting everybody, Tennessee returns 123 career starts on its offensive line. Only Texas returns more. Senior right tackle Ja’Wuan James is the “old man” of the group. He’s started in every game of his college career (37) since his true freshman season in 2010. Senior right guard Zach Fulton is right behind him with 28 starts, while senior center James Stone has 27 starts. Senior Alex Bullard, who started his career at Notre Dame, slides in for Dallas Thomas this season as the starter at left guard. Bullard has 14 career starts. Junior Antonio “Tiny” Richardson is the most talented of the bunch and returns at left tackle after starting in all 12 games last season. Richardson is a future first-rounder and will likely come out after this season. The Vols are still trying to build depth, although junior Marcus Jackson started in five games at left guard in 2011. Third-year sophomore Kyler Kerbyson would probably be the seventh man in the rotation. Tennessee led the SEC with only eight sacks allowed last season, which was 10 fewer than the next closest team. The challenge was becoming more physical in the running game, and the Vols are eager to prove that they can knock people off the ball as well as they can protect the passer. It’s not going to be easy in Jones’ first season. Simply making it to a bowl game would be a coup. If the Vols are going to get there, they’ll do so with their big, talented (and experienced) offensive line clearing the way.

Ranking the SEC offensive linemen

July, 5, 2013
Now that you’ve seen how we ranked the offensive lines as a unit in the SEC, here’s a look at the league’s top 10 offensive linemen for the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeCyrus Kouandjio
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsCyrus Kouandjio is already being viewed as a top NFL prospect.
1. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Jr., Alabama: There's no shortage of tackle talent in the SEC. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kouandjio has just scraped the surface of how good he can be and has the frame, footwork and ferocity to be a franchise left tackle. He started in all 13 games last season and returns as the centerpiece of that Alabama line.

2. Jake Matthews, OT, Sr., Texas A&M: Had he left for the NFL draft last year, Matthews would have been a first-round pick, maybe a top-15 pick. Extremely polished and equally talented, Matthews is making the move to left tackle to fill Luke Joeckel's old spot, which means Johnny Manziel's blind side will again be well protected.

3. Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, OT, Jr., Tennessee: Guys who are 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds aren't supposed to be able to move the way Richardson can. The Vols' massive left tackle made a name for himself last season with the job he did on both Jarvis Jones and Jadeveon Clowney.

4. Gabe Jackson, OG, RSr., Mississippi State: The top guard in the SEC going into the season, the 6-foot-4, 335-pound Jackson is a true road-grader. He combines size, power and strength and has been a fixture at left guard for the Bulldogs since his redshirt freshman season.

5. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Sr., Tennessee: He's the "other" tackle at Tennessee and an excellent player in his own right. At 6-foot-6 and 323 pounds, James has started in every game at right tackle for the Vols since stepping onto campus as a true freshman in 2010.

6. Travis Swanson, C, RSr., Arkansas: What sets the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Swanson apart is his mobility and the way he can move. He's one of the top centers in the country and has started all 38 games of his Arkansas career. The Hogs will lean heavily on him this season.

7. Zach Fulton, OG, Sr., Tennessee: Yep, another Tennessee offensive lineman on the list. Fulton hasn't received the same notoriety as Richardson or James, but he's a rock-solid 6-foot-4, 324-pound guard who has everything it takes to play a long time in the NFL.

8. Wesley Johnson, OT, RSr., Vanderbilt: Talk to Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand for a few minutes, and it's obvious what Johnson has meant to Vanderbilt's program. He returns as the Commodores' left tackle, but has started everywhere but right guard during his career. He's never been called for a holding penalty.

9. Anthony Steen, OG, RSr., Alabama: One of two returning starters for the Tide up front, the 6-foot-3, 309-pound Steen was as underrated as any player on Alabama's team last season. There's a reason he got a third-round NFL draft grade. He's consistent, tough and wins a lot more battles than he loses from his right guard spot.

10. A.J. Cann, OG, RJr., South Carolina: Having started 25 games over the past two seasons, the 6-foot-4, 314-pound Cann is back at left guard and coming off a terrific offseason. He's equally effective as a run-blocker and pass-protector and a big reason the Gamecocks should have one of their best lines under Steve Spurrier.

Strong and weak: Tennessee

July, 3, 2013
It’s time to check out Tennessee's strongest position and weakest position heading into the 2013 season.

Strongest position: Offensive line

Tennessee lost a ton on offense from a year ago, and the Vols were plenty explosive even though they didn't win a lot of games. In fact, they lost four games in which they scored more than 30 points. The good news for first-year coach Butch Jones is that four of the five starting offensive linemen return, and all four are likely to wind up in an NFL camp somewhere. Junior Antonio "Tiny" Richardson is a franchise left tackle. Go back and look at the job he did on both Jarvis Jones and Jadeveon Clowney last season (except for that last play against the Gamecocks). Senior right tackle Ja'Wuan James is also a future pro, while senior Zach Fulton is one of the top guards in the league. Throw in senior center James Stone, who has 27 career starts, and it all adds up to the best offensive line in the SEC. When you're good up front on offense, it masks other problems on that side of the ball. The Vols will lean heavily on their offensive line in 2013 and will need those guys to play up to their talent level and then some.

Weakest position: Receivers

All you really need to know about Tennessee's receiving corps is that every wide receiver or tight end who caught more than 13 passes a year ago is gone, including three players -- Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Mychal Rivera -- who were taken in the NFL draft. In addition, underrated Zach Rogers signed as a free agent with the Jets. That's 26 receiving touchdowns gone. There were as many errors as big plays from the Vols' receivers this spring, and Jones has admitted that they have a long way to go. Sophomore Pig Howard is the top returning wide receiver, but he's not a big target at 5-8 and 185 pounds. Redshirt freshman Jason Croom is coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him a year ago, and junior Vincent Dallas is somebody who's at least played. Sophomore Cody Blanc could be a sleeper, and it's a given that true freshmen MarQuez North and Paul Harris will have to play early. North was the gem of the 2013 signing class, but will have to learn on the run. He wasn't on campus for spring practice. It's never ideal to count on freshmen, but that's were the Vols are right now at the receiver position -- and they're equally unproven at tight end.

Flying under the radar in the SEC

June, 11, 2013
We’re all about spreading the love at the SEC blog. But occasionally, players in this league don’t receive the love they deserve.

So as we point toward the 2013 season, we’ve come up with the 10 most underrated players in the SEC.

To be eligible, players must have played at least two seasons of college football and cannot have received first- or second-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press or coaches during their careers.

In selecting the players for this list, we based it on past performance and the impact they’ve had on their teams to this point. It’s not a projection of what they’re expected to do this coming season.

[+] EnlargeChris Smith
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsThe Razorbacks will rely on senior Chris Smith to guide the defensive line again this season.
Here goes:

Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU, Sr.: He was overshadowed by teammate Kevin Minter last season, but Barrow finished fifth in the SEC with eight tackles per game and was one of seven players in the league with more than 100 tackles (104). The 6-2, 233-pound Barrow played weak side linebacker last season, but is versatile enough to move inside to the middle if needed. The Tigers will lean heavily on his experience and productivity in 2013.

Trey DePriest, LB, Alabama, Jr.: The second leading tackler last season for the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide, the 6-2, 245-pound DePriest racked up 59 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss. DePriest was the Tide’s starter at middle linebacker last season and a major reason nobody ran the ball against them. They allowed just 2.43 yards per rush, which led the country.

Alvin “Bud” Dupree, LB, Kentucky, Jr.: Talk about underrated. The 6-4, 254-pound Dupree is coming off a super productive sophomore season and barely got any mention for postseason accolades. He tied for seventh in the SEC with 12.5 tackles for loss and led the Wildcats with 6.5 sacks. He’s found a home at defensive end in Kentucky’s new defense after bouncing around between outside linebacker and end last season.

Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee, Sr.: Tennessee’s offensive line in 2013 will be one of the most experienced in college football with a combined 123 career starts. Left tackle Antonio Richardson is a future first-rounder, and right tackle Ja’Wuan James is somebody else the NFL scouts are watching. But don’t sleep on the 6-5, 324-pound Fulton, who’s started 28 of the last 31 games at right guard. He’s a devastating blocker, equally consistent and will play a long time in the NFL.

E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Sr.: Even though Gaines garnered All-Big 12 honors in 2011, he didn’t show up on the All-SEC first or second teams a year ago. Look for that to change in 2013. The 5-10, 195-pound Gaines led the Tigers last season with 11 pass breakups and tied for fourth on the team with a career-high 74 total tackles. The SEC is never lacking for premier cornerbacks, but Gaines has the size and cover skills to rank up there with anybody.

Jonotthan Harrison, C, Florida, Sr.: The feeling coming out of spring camp at Florida was the Gators would be much improved on offense in 2013, and Harrison’s steady play was a big reason why. He was Florida’s best offensive linemen a year ago and returns as one of the top centers in the SEC. He’s also played guard during his career and graded out above 80 percent in nine games last season.

Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt, Sr.: He’s been the epitome of versatility for the Commodores and has started everywhere on the offensive line but right guard during a stellar career that has seen him play multiple positions in 23 games. The 6-5, 285-pound Johnson lined up at left tackle last season and more than held his own against some of the top pass-rushers in the country.

Walker May, DE, Vanderbilt, Sr.: Having worked his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman, the 6-5, 250-pound May has gotten better every season. One of the team’s hardest workers and best leaders, May finished with 10.5 tackles for loss last season and led the Commodores with seven quarterback hurries. He’s one of those players who's at his best when his team needs it the most.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.: The fact that a player like Moncrief didn’t make first or second-team All-SEC last season is surprising, but it also speaks to the talent level at receiver in this league. The 6-3, 220-pound Moncrief was third in the SEC last season with 10 touchdown catches and is the kind of playmaking target all quarterbacks look to at key moments in the game.

Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas, Sr.: The SEC has long been known for its pass-rushers, and the 6-3, 266-pound Smith was as productive as anybody in the league last season off the edge. He and Jadeveon Clowney are the only two players returning in the SEC who had nine or more sacks a year ago. Smith finished with 9.5 sacks and tied for the Arkansas team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss.
 Ja'Wuan James/Antonio RichardsonIcon SMI Ja'Wuan James and Antonio Richardson are arguably the best set of offensive tackles in college.
Lost in the fallout from Tennessee’s third straight losing season a year ago was an offensive line that jelled and had few peers when the season ended.

It’s an offensive line that pretty much returns intact in 2013 and will be flanked by a pair of tackles oozing with talent and poised to play for a long time in the NFL.

Ja’Wuan James and Antonio Richardson are the Vols’ “Pillars of Protection,” and they form what is arguably the best returning tackle tandem in college football.

The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Richardson, who’s known as “Tiny” around Rocky Top, doesn’t think there’s much argument to it -- and he’s felt that way for a while.

“Even last year, I felt like we were the best tackle combo,” Richardson said. “I know Texas A&M had the hype (with Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews), but I really feel like me and Ja’Wuan can be two of the best tackles in the country. I just have that much confidence in us. And not just us, but I have a lot of confidence in my whole O-line as well.”

Senior Zach Fulton returns at one of the guard spots and senior James Stone at center. Both figure to be in NFL training camps next year. The only starter lost was guard Dallas Thomas. Alex Bullard and Marcus Jackson are fighting for that spot this spring.

Richardson, who will be a junior, is a virtual lock to go in the first round of the NFL draft if he chooses to come out next year. James, a rising senior, looked into leaving early this year, but decided to stay. He might not be a lock to go in the first round, but it’s difficult to see him lasting past the second or third round.

“Last year, I thought all the work we put in showed,” said the 6-foot-6, 323-pound James. “We played a lot better, but there’s definitely another level. This year, we want to put it all together, because when you don’t win, it’s sort of hollow.

“That’s the legacy we want to leave, getting this program back to winning games.”

James has been a starter at right tackle since the day he walked onto campus. He’s started in 37 consecutive games. Richardson moved into the starting lineup last season at left tackle and more than held his own against some of the top pass-rushers in the league, namely Georgia’s Jarvis Jones and South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.

As a unit, the Vols finished fifth nationally last season with only eight sacks allowed in 12 games. They also improved their rushing totals by an average of 70 yards per game.

But it was the one sack that Richardson gave up last season that has festered.

Tennessee was driving for the potential game-winning touchdown in the final minutes against South Carolina on the road. It was just the kind of win over a nationally ranked team that Tennessee desperately needed after losing their first four SEC games.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney and Antonio Richardson
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAntonio Richardson, right, is looking forward to his next opportunity to square off with Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney had been quiet all day. But with a little more than a minute to play, Clowney shot past Richardson on the outside and blasted Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray from behind, forcing a fumble that the Gamecocks recovered to seal their 38-35 win.

Richardson has rewound that one play over and over again in his mind, and every time he does, it only drives him harder.

“The thing is, Jadeveon Clowney is a great player, and I have the utmost respect for him,”Richardson said. “He’s the best defensive player in the country, maybe even the Heisman winner. But that last play has stayed in my head. It was everything I did, a technique flaw by me, and he took advantage.

“ESPN and all the media are going to magnify it. That’s all they see. They don’t see everything else that was done in that game. I’m just working on being 100 percent so I can show everybody that I am the elite left tackle in this conference.”

He has Clowney’s vote.

“He’s one of the best I’ve faced, him and (Michigan’s Taylor Lewan),” Clowney said. “What makes him so good is that he never quits and has an attitude about himself that he wants to be great. He came out the first play of the game and said, ‘I don’t want nobody but Clowney.’ I told him that I liked that about him.”

Richardson has been limited this spring after having his knee scoped during the offseason. He’s down to 325 pounds and wants to play a little lighter next season, especially with the Vols going to a faster-paced offense under first-year coach Butch Jones.

“We’re going to be moving pretty fast,” said Richardson, who only has 16 percent body fat. “The other thing for me is knowing what I’m seeing out there on the field on every play, being more of a student of the game. Not only for myself, but so I can help the younger guys out there.”

With a new quarterback and a new group of receivers, the burden next season will fall on Tennessee’s offensive line more than ever.

James, who’s playing for his third different offensive line coach at Tennessee, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Everybody says we got questions at receiver and questions at quarterback,” James said. “As an offensive line, we put it on our shoulders to lead the team and help bring everybody else up. It always starts up front. That’s never going to change.

“If we play the way we’re capable of, there’s no telling how far we can go.”

Don Mahoney, who came with Jones from Cincinnati to coach Tennessee’s offensive line, loves the talent he inherited. But there are a few intangibles about this group that he loves just as much.

“Without a doubt, they’re blessed with some physical talent, but when they make a mistake, they know what that mistake was,” Mahoney said. “We’re blessed with guys who have talent and are smart, and they also have an edge to them. In their minds, they haven’t proven anything because they haven’t won enough.”

Richardson is careful not to get too ahead of himself, but he doesn’t need a calendar to know when he gets another shot at Clowney.

“It’s one game at a time,” Richardson said, his voice trailing off. “But believe me. When it’s time to go up against Jadeveon Clowney, I’ll be mentally and physically ready.”

SEC players of the week

September, 3, 2012
The SEC announced its players of the week for the first weekend of the year:

  • Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: In his first appearance since a season-ending knee injury last October, Lattimore rushed for a game-high 110 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns in South Carolina’s 17-13 win at Vanderbilt. Lattimore also had a team-high three receptions for 21 yards.
  • Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: Milliner totaled five tackles, four pass deflections and an interception in Alabama’s 41-14 win against No. 8 Michigan in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. His four pass deflections, all in the first half, were a career high. Milliner was also named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week.
  • Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri: Murphy returned a pair of punts for touchdowns and accumulated 206 all-purpose yards in Missouri’s 62-10 win against Southeastern Louisiana. Murphy's touchdown returns were 70 and 72 yards and he became the first Tiger to have two returns for scores in the same game. Murphy’s two punt return touchdowns also ties an NCAA and SECrecord. Murphy registered 180 punt return yards (five attempts) and 32 rushing yards on five carries in the game.
  • Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee: Fulton started his 16th consecutive game at right guard and was a part of an offensive line that led Tennessee to a 35-21 win over NC State in Atlanta. Tennessee's offense generated 524 total yards, the most since the second game of the 2011 season. The Vols also rushed for 191 yards against the Wolfpack, eclipsing the final totals from all but one game from last year. Tennessee's line also allowed just one sack against NC State.
  • C.J. Johnson, DE, Ole Miss: Johnson recorded six tackles and a sack in Ole Miss' 49-27 win over Central Arkansas. With Ole Miss up just one score in the fourth quarter, Johnson’s sack ended a UCA drive and provided momentum that resulted in three straight Rebel TD scoring drives. He also totaled six tackles.
  • Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas: Smith had six tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry in Arkansas’ 49-24 win against Jacksonville State. His sack came on a fourth-down play, giving possession back to the Hogs.
  • Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: Gurley accounted for 227 all-purpose yards, including 100 rushing yards and two touchdownss on eight carries and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score in Georgia’s 45-23 win against Buffalo.
  • T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: Yeldon led the Crimson Tide with 111 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown in Alabama’s 41-14 win against Michigan. He became the first true freshman at Alabama to rush for more than 100 yards in his debut.

For other top performances in the SEC from the opening weekend, check out the SEC's official website.

Opening spring camp: Tennessee

March, 26, 2012
Schedule: Tennessee begins spring practice Monday and concludes with the Orange and White Game on April 21.

What's new: There was a lot of movement on coach Derek Dooley's staff this offseason. Seven new coaches are in Knoxville this spring. Sal Sunseri arrives as the Vols' new defensive coordinator after serving as Alabama's linebackers coach the previous three seasons. After being a defensive assistant at Alabama from 2010-11 and the defensive backs coach at Central Florida for a couple months, Derrick Ansley joined Tennessee's staff to coach the Vols' cornerbacks. Charlie Coiner is Tennessee's new special teams/tight ends coach. Josh Conklin left The Citadel to coach Tennessee's safeties, and Jay Graham left South Carolina to return to his alma mater to coach running backs. John Palermo and Sam Pittman round out Tennessee's new hires. Palermo will coach the Vols' defensive line, and Pittman will coach the offensive line. Tennessee also welcomed seven early enrollees -- Cody Blanc (wide receiver), Alden Hill (running back), Justin Meredith (tight end), Nathan Peterman (quarterback), Darrington Sentimore and Trent Taylor (defensive line), and Tino Thomas (defensive back).

On the mend: Wide receiver Justin Hunter and defensive back/linebacker Brent Brewer are both coming off of ACL injuries from last fall and will be limited during the spring. Linebacker Curt Maggitt, nose guard Daniel Hood and defensive back Prentiss Waggner all had offseason shoulder surgery and will be non-contact this spring. Offensive lineman Zach Fulton will be limited this spring as he tries to recover from a stress fracture suffered a couple of weeks ago during offseason workouts. Offensive lineman JerQuari Schofield and defensive lineman Corey Miller will not be practicing for academic reasons.

On the move: Dooley plans to move a few players around this spring. With Tennessee moving to a 3-4 defense, the team is adding to its linebacker depth. Brewer (defensive back), Channing Fugate (fullback), Jacques Smith (defensive lineman), and Willie Bohannon (defensive lineman) are all working at linebacker this spring. Smith and Bohannon will compete at the Jack linebacker spot. Maggitt is also moving to inside linebacker. Rajion Neal is moving exclusively to running back after playing both wide receiver and running back last season. Waggner is moving back to cornerback after playing safety last season. James Stone, a center last season, will play some guard and tackle this spring.

Questions: The Vols return a lot of bodies on defense, but with a new coordinator, new scheme, and several position changes, there will be starting jobs available. With the 3-4 coming in, Tennessee will be in search of a reliable nose guard. Maurice Couch played there more as last season progressed, but Tennessee's staff thinks very highly of incoming junior college noseguard Daniel McCullers, who will be on campus this summer. Having Hood limited also means depth is an issue there this spring. There is still a little uncertainty in Tennessee's secondary. Waggner moving to cornerback will help with boundary play, but it takes a solid player out of the safety spot. Redshirt senior Rod Wilks takes over at free safey, but has no career starts. The running back position also enters the spring with questions surrounding it. The Vols were last in the SEC in rushing last season, and lose starter Tauren Poole. Only three lettermen return, and none are proven. Neal and Marlin Lane will start spring getting the majority of reps, but they combined for just 414 rushing yards on 102 carries last season.

Key battle: Injuries to Hunter and quarterback Tyler Bray certainly hurt Tennessee's offense last season, but being unable to run the ball effectively really kept the Vols from overcoming their struggles in the passing game. There is no question that Tennessee's run game, which ranked 116th nationally (90.1) last season, needs a major upgrade. Lane and Neal will get the first shots at earning the job this spring, but having Hill on campus early will definitely add some depth, and he should push both this spring. Sophomore Devrin Young, who rushed for 25 yards last season, will also compete for time this spring. Tennessee can't go another season without having much of a running game to speak of if it wants to take a step forward and compete for an SEC East title.

Don't forget about: Tennessee will get back a familiar face on defense this spring when linebacker Herman Lathers returns. After fracturing his ankle last June, Lathers missed all of the 2011 season, but will be full go this spring. Tennessee needs more linebackers, and adding a veteran like Lathers will help. Tennessee's staff is also excited about what Sentimore can bring to the defensive end spot. He played one season at Alabama before going the JUCO route in 2011. He's on campus now, and is listed on the Vols' two-deep at one of the end spots. Sentimore has a good shot at earning a starting spot this spring.

Breaking out: The staff has high expectations for offensive lineman Antonio Richardson. The sophomore spent 2011 playing on special teams, but after being such a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school, the coaches are expecting him to compete for playing time even though the Vols return all five starters. With Fulton limited this spring, Richardson will get his chance to impress. Also, Lane is a player who has the physical tools to make a big jump this spring. He was a top high school prospect, and now has a chance to claim the running back spot for himself. He's a big body with pretty good speed, but Lane needs to work on his consistency.

All eyes on: Bray has yet to play a full season at Tennessee. A thumb injury kept him out for half of the 2011 season, but he appears to be back to full health. He wasn't great when he returned at the end of last season, but rust will do that to a quarterback. Now is a chance for Bray to get back into the swing of things and get more comfortable after his injury. It's also time for him to improve his leadership skills. Those have been called into question during his two years in Knoxville, but now that he's officially a veteran, it's time for him to take hold of this team. He has weapons around him to help his passing numbers, but Bray should look to improve this team as a whole by leading by both example and with his words.

Hope and concern: Tennessee

April, 28, 2011
A look at why Derek Dooley’s second season at Tennessee could be one to remember and why it could be one to forget:

Biggest reason for hope: Budding young stars on offense

Just about everywhere you look on Tennessee’s offense, there are promising second-year players who played a lot of football last season as freshmen, and in most cases, played at a high level. Quarterback Tyler Bray had a brutal spring game, but showed how talented he was a year ago in throwing 16 touchdown passes in his five starts to close the season. The Vols really have a chance to be special up front offensively. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James, right guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone started as true freshmen last season, and heralded signee Marcus Jackson enrolled early and worked all spring as the starting left guard. The sophomore receiving tandem of Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers also appears poised for a big season. Hunter caught seven touchdown passes as a true freshman, and Rogers was perhaps the Vols’ most dynamic player on the field this spring.

Biggest reason for concern: Too many unknowns and new faces on defense

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox won’t have a true picture of what his defense will look like until August when all the newcomers get on the field. Junior college tackle Maurice Couch and junior college defensive backs Byron Moore and Izauea Lanier could be immediate starters, and the Vols won’t know until this summer if star safety Janzen Jackson will rejoin the team after withdrawing from school this semester to sort out personal issues. They’re extremely thin at defensive tackle, even though USC transfer Malik Jackson slid inside from end last season and performed very well. Tennessee will also need a freshman or two to help at linebacker where there isn’t much returning in the way of depth. With so many new faces, there’s sure to be some serious growing pains. Plus, it’s always a crapshoot to count on so many junior college players and freshmen. It may be that the Vols are forced to win a lot of shootouts next season where they’re always having to outscore people, and that's a scary proposition in this league.



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12