Tennessee Football: Analysis of the Vols' 5 Senior Starters in 2012
The 2012 Tennessee Volunteers football team is likely to start just five seniors. Each of these men weathered one of the most turbulent times in the program's history, so fans should make sure to remember their contribution as they go forward.
In fact, four of the five players are redshirt seniors, which mean they played one season under Phillip Fulmer, one under Lane Kiffin and one under Derek Dooley. Assuming nothing crazy happens, this fall will be the first time they see the same head coach in the locker room.
Sometimes we forget about these sorts of things. Let's honor them.
Pipe up the "Pomp and Circumstance" and read through the biographies of these five seniors' Tennessee careers.
Redshirt senior Ben Bartholomew is exactly the kind of fullback every coach hopes to have on his team.
In 12 games last year, Bartholomew reeled in just six receptions for 54 yards. In other words, all he does is block, and he does it well.
After the opener, he earned seven starts, and while the Volunteer running game was absolutely awful, it certainly wasn't because of a lack of effort or skill on the part of Bartholomew.
During Batholomew's first two seasons at Rocky Top, he played in just seven games, primarily as a special teams contributor.
He will be eligible for another season in Knoxville if he wants to take it after 2012. But if he decides to graduate, I wouldn't be surprised to see him hook up with his older brother Will in Franklin, Tennessee, where he runs D1 Sports Training, a facility whose reputation is growing in the sports community.
The career of Marsalis Teague has been an odd one.
The Paris, Tennessee native earned five starts at wide receiver his freshman year and racked up a solid 13 catches for 147 yards in that season.
In 2010, however, new head coach Derek Dooley switched the sophomore Teague to cornerback to make room for newly-recruited Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers.
It was this year that Teague shined the most as a Vol. He tallied 46 tackles and led the team with eight passes broken up. Eight of Teague's tackles came in the heart-wrenching loss at LSU, where an underdog Tennessee nearly pulled the upset.
As a junior, Teague's progression wasn't quite what we would have hoped. He played in 11 of the 12 games, starting in eight. His tackles dropped to 27 and passes defended to two.
The secondary is crowded with talented players in 2012, but there's nothing like having a veteran to help hold things together.
Teague might have a career in the Canadian Football League or United Football League after Tennessee.
Herman Lathers had a season-ending ankle injury in June of 2011, forcing him to sit out and postpone his senior year until this fall.
It may have worked out okay for Lathers, as he'll get plenty of opportunities to show his skill and leadership at middle linebacker.
After redshirting under Phillip Fulmer in 2008, Lathers had a nice first year with the Vols in 2009 with 41 tackles, two for lost yardage, earning him All-SEC Freshman honors.
But it was his outstanding sophomore year that made fans excited.
Playing and starting in 12 games, Lathers manned the middle linebacker position and collected 75 tackles, six for lost yardage and three sacks. He was second on the team in tackles.
With the Vols switching to the 3-4 defense, Lathers will have a lot of responsibility as the lone starting senior in the front seven. A strong 2012 season could mean an NFL roster for the Louisiana native.
I can't help but love Dallas Thomas. He has been the sole upperclassmen on the offensive line since 2010, but he does his job consistently and effectively.
As a freshman, Thomas played in all 13 games, playing as a lineman on extra point and field goal attempts.
As a sophomore, Thomas began his 25 straight starts at left tackle for the extremely young Tennessee offensive line. If you recall, he had four freshmen to his right most of the 2010 season.
Nevertheless, the 2010 offensive line was very good, especially for its age. In November, his offensive line allowed just six sacks.
As a junior, Thomas' unit once again kept the quarterback upright, allowing the third fewest sacks in the SEC. At left tackle, most of the running game's woes can't be attributed to his play.
This fall, Thomas will be one of the oldest starters on the offense. His young offensive line is now full of juniors, and I expect a vast improvement from last year.
His consistency both in play and durability is likely to earn him a draft selection in 2013.
If you've watched every game since 2009, you've seen Prentiss Waggner at some point.
The redshirt senior has appeared in every game, starting in each of the last 25 games for the Vols at cornerback and safety.
In 2009, Waggner's first playing year, he got a feel for SEC action with two starts near the end of the season. He garnered 11 tackles.
As a sophomore, he exploded onto the scene with 57 tackles, nine passes defended, three fumble recoveries and five interceptions. His three interceptions he returned for touchdowns led all of college football and remain a Tennessee single-season record.
His five interceptions were tied for the most on the team and were the most in a season since Eric Berry. Waggner's eight total takeaways were the most since ball-hawking Deon Grant roamed the Tennessee secondary in 1999.
Due to youth and lack of depth, Waggner shifted back and forth between cornerback and safety as a junior, which explains his statistical dip. Still, he piled up 48 tackles, nine passes defended, one fumble forced, two sacks and two interceptions.
Waggner led the team in passes broken up and defended in 2011, showing that he still has what it takes to be a top-flight defensive back if put in the right position.
If Brent Brewer can relieve Waggner of his safety duties, the Louisiana native will finish his career as a Volunteer with a bang at cornerback and get drafted on the first day in the 2013 NFL draft.