March 18, 2010

Dooley has plenty of work to do at Tennessee

The Lane Kiffin era is over after one year at Tennessee.

For sure, though, it was a year filled with a lot of bluster and some controversy. Still, even if Kiffin had stayed, Year 2 would've been a rebuilding season for a Vols team that appears to have a lot of holes.

New coach Derek Dooley is a lot more even-keeled than Kiffin. He takes over a squad with issues at quarterback, on the offensive line, at defensive tackle, at linebacker and in the secondary.

Here's a look at the Vols as they prepare to open spring drills.

TENNESSEE AT-A-GLANCE
Bryce Brown should get plenty of carries as the Vols break in a new quarterback.
THE BASICS
Coach: Derek Dooley
Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in the SEC. Lost 37-14 to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl
Spring dates: March 18-April 17
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (5): FB Kevin Cooper, T Aaron Douglas, WR Gerald Jones, WR Denarius Moore, TE Luke Stocker.
Defense (5): CB Art Evans, FS Janzen Jackson, E Ben Martin, LB LaMarcus Thompson, E Chris Walker.
Special teams (2): P Chad Cunningham, K Daniel Lincoln.
Positions of strength

The receiving corps has some potential. Gerald Jones is dangerous with the ball in his hands. Denarius Moore emerged as a solid complementary receiver last season, plus there looks to be good depth. Luke Stocker has good size and good hands, and should be one of the SEC's best tight ends. Ben Martin and Chris Walker are a solid duo at defensive end. Janzen Jackson, who was a freshman All-SEC pick last season, has a ton of potential at free safety.

Help is needed

The offensive line is a huge concern, especially the interior. The new starting center might be Victor Thomas, who was a defensive lineman last season. While the receiving corps is solid, is there a quarterback who can get them the ball? The defense lost its three best players: LB Rico McCoy, DT Dan Williams and SS Eric Berry. This season's defensive ends are good; the defensive tackles are an unknown commodity. The linebacking corps has to prove itself. And while the secondary has potential, will someone step up as a playmaker?

Three guys to watch

TB Bryce Brown: Brown, a sophomore, was the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2009. He played right away as a backup to Montario Hardesty last season. Hardesty is gone, and the starting job now is Brown's, though there are rumors that he could leave after spring practice. But Brown has gone through all the conditioning drills in the offseason. Given the state of the passing attack, the running game is going to be vital this fall, which means Brown should get a lot of carries.

DT Montori Hughes: The Vols lost both starting defensive tackles and Hughes, who was a solid reserve as a freshman last season, is being counted on to be a big producer at one of those spots. He needs to show he can handle the job this spring.

OT Dallas Thomas: The Vols return just one starting offensive lineman, and Aaron Douglas is moving from right tackle to left tackle, meaning there will be five guys in new spots. With Douglas switching sides, Thomas, a sophomore, is expected to step in and start on the right side. There isn't much depth at tackle, so Thomas is under the gun to produce this spring.

The pressure is on

The quarterbacks: Senior Nick Stephens, JC transfer Matt Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray are the candidates to replace Jonathan Crompton, who played well down the stretch last season and will be missed. Stephens will be learning his fourth offense in five seasons; he started six games in 2008 but barely played last season. Bray has all sorts of potential, but he is rail-thin (he's 6 feet 6 but just 192 pounds) and it's tough for a true freshman quarterback to have much success in the SEC. Simms, the son of Phil Simms, began his career at Louisville before heading to junior college. Forget big plays; the quarterback likely to be atop the depth chart at the end of spring drills almost certainly will be the quarterback who made the fewest mistakes during the spring.

The buzz

The stunning departure of Kiffin and surprise hire of Dooley is in the rear-view mirror, and it's time for Dooley and his staff -- who recruited surprisingly well in a short amount of time -- to start coaching up the players left behind. It's not going to be easy, as the Vols look to have a lot of holes. It's vital that some semblance of an offensive line come together this spring. If it doesn't, this fall, the new quarterback is going to be harassed and there won't be much running room for Brown and his backups.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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