Every college football team has great players. However, no team has great players at every position.
For the University of Tennessee, the 2011 roster had plenty of holes in it. Derek Dooley’s squad struggled running the football, gave up lots of yards through the air and was very poor in the kicking game.
As we look ahead to 2012, some of those holes remain and other new holes have emerged.
Here are the five weakest positions to worry about for the Volunteers.
For many years, Tennessee was sending countless numbers of defensive linemen in the NFL. However, the talent up front has been very thin of late.
Malik Jackson was the anchor of the Volunteers’ defensive line each of the last two years. Jackson has now moved on to the next level, and it’s up to current players to step in and fill the void.
Tennessee’s post-spring depth chart featured two defensive tackle positions, but five players are listed as co-starters at those positions. Maurice Couch is the highest touted member of that group, but he has never been asked to anchor the middle of the defensive line.
Steven Fowlkes, Darrington Sentimore, Daniel Hood and Gregory Clark all join Couch as co-starters. However, none of them have seen great amounts of experience or success during their time with the Vols.
Not only are the Vols weak in the interior of the defensive line, but they also lack game-changers on the outside of the line.
Tennessee didn’t lose much at defensive end following the 2011 season. Only Ben Martin has departed, and he accounted for only 18 tackles last fall.
With all the players returning, one would think the position would be a strength. However, while the starters feature a lot of potential, the proven results have not been there.
Junior Jacques Smith hasn’t had the impact many fans expected during his first two seasons, and Marlon Walls has struggled at times to stay on the field.
There is potential for both to be very good in 2012, but until results start happening, it will be nothing but potential.
Like defensive linemen, there have been many great running backs that have worn the orange and white in Knoxville. You would have no idea that was the case, though, if you watched the Vols play in 2011.
Tennessee finished dead last in the SEC last season in rushing yards, and only four teams in the entire country rushed for fewer yards than the Vols.
Gone is Tauren Poole, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2010. Looking at the post-spring depth chart, Derek Dooley hasn’t made his decision yet on who will be the Vols’ workhorse in 2012. Marlin Lane, Raijon Neal and Devrin Young are currently listed as co-starters at the position.
The SEC is a conference that has been known for its rushing prowess. In just the last two seasons alone, names like Mark Ingram, Marcus Lattimore, Trent Richardson and Knile Davis have dominated the conference. The 2012 Tennessee roster doesn’t feature a running back of that caliber.
Tennessee’s kicking game caused many Vols fans to pull out every last piece of hair on their head during the 2011 season.
Junior Michael Palardy was a member of Derek Dooley’s first signing class in 2010, and was ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 2 kicker in the country. With that came high expectations, and Palardy has been a major disappointment to this point.
In 2011, Palardy hit just 9-of-14 field goals, and greatly struggled on kickoffs. It’s not a guarantee that he will have the starting job in 2012. According to the post-spring depth chart, Palardy is listed as a co-starter with walk-on kicker Derrick Brodus.
The Vols figure to be in more close games in 2012, and it is imperative that the kicking game makes a significant improvement by then.
Tennessee’s kicking game woes in 2011 weren’t constrained to just field goals and kickoffs. They also included punting as well.
Like Michael Palardy, Matt Darr joined the Vols with high expectations as a member of the 2010 signing class. Rivals.com rated Darr as the No. 4 overall punter in his signing class. Darr redshirted in 2010, before assuming the starting role last season.
Tennessee fans were spoiled for many years in this department with the members of the Colquitt family that pinned opponents deep time and again.
Darr and Palardy are listed as co-starters as Tennessee finishes the spring, and neither makes Vols fans feel great at the position.
While having a great punter is a huge luxury for a team, having a below average punter is a major detriment.