Tennessee Football: Derek Dooley Looks to Pick Up the Pieces in 2012

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterMarch 26, 2012

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 17:  Quarterback Tyler Bray #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers attempts a pass during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Last season did not go the way Derek Dooley, the Tennessee football family or the Volunteers' faithful fans wanted or expected it to go.

Injuries to their best players. No bowl trip. A loss to a team they never lose to in Kentucky. Bad losses to teams that were clearly better; a 41-7 average score in losses to LSU, Alabama and Arkansas. Tough losses to divisional foes Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Basically, Tennessee and Dooley got it from all sides, in about every way possible in 2011. Now, with the start of spring practice today the Volunteers look to find a way to get back to playing football the way people expect. Consistent offense, good defense and a lot of opportunities to play "Rocky Top" in Neyland Stadium during their seven home games.

Dooley may well be fighting for his job and that starts with the progress this roster can make during the spring season.

There are two things for Tennessee folks to really get excited about for 2012, one on each side of the ball. Starting with the offense, the big news is that Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter are healthy and back in the fold.

The pair missed 14 combined games for the Vols last year and their absence was felt tremendously. Hunter is the best wide receiver at quarterback Tyler Bray's disposal, and not only is the kid a playmaker but he opens up Da'Rick Rogers on the other side of the field as well.

In short, a healthy Hunter is great for Bray, great for Rogers, great for the health of the Tennessee passing game and, overall, great for the offense. Add in a Tennessee offensive line that's got some experience about it, and the Vols offense should be able to move the ball.

The other reason to get excited is the newcomer in charge of the defense; Sal Sunseri. Sunseri comes from Alabama where he was the linebackers coach and the assistant head coach under Nick Saban.

Honestly, Sunseri is one of those guys in the coaching field that I've loved for quite a while. He's a heck of a coach, he does good work and quite honestly I am still somewhat surprised that he has not had a head coaching gig yet. The guy gets it, and this "get it" guy is now taking over at Tennessee.

While there is optimism by the hire, there will be issues for the Volunteers, and this spring is paramount when it comes to figuring out their defensive problems. Switching to the 3-4 is no small task, and as the pads go on, Sunseri and the Vols will find out where the men are on his roster.

The Volunteers will need a mountain of a man at the nose tackle position, and they need some players across the linebacker spots to run this scheme effectively.

Obviously last season was bad and there are a lot of question marks with the new scheme being installed but, this is a team that I'll be watching closely this spring. They have some good pieces. They have real pressure to not just get better everyday but win ball games in the fall.

Their entire path to success starts out on the field and in the meeting rooms. Bray is a heck of a quarterback, their pass catchers are solid, I think Marlin Lane is a capable running back, there are solid players on this roster. The goal has to be putting it all together for Tennessee.