Tennessee Football: 10 Things to Work on over the Summer

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMay 18, 2012

Tennessee Football: 10 Things to Work on over the Summer

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    This could truly be the season the Volunteers turn around their misfortune and begin winning some serious football games.  After all, it’s been four years since the Volunteers have won a bowl game or double-digit games.

    This could be a great season as they return a total of 19 starters and have a bunch of young talent at nearly every position.

    With spring practice over, the Volunteers will turn their focus to fall camp and the regular season.

    Although this team is very talented and may be flying the radar, there are still questions this team has to answer before they truly become that surprise team that many Tennessee fans believe they can be.

    Here are 10 things the Volunteers have to work on during the summer.

True Freshmen

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    The Volunteers are already a young and talented team, but have a few younger players that should set on the field and contribute this year as well. 

    Tennessee already has a talented group of wide receivers, but with JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson arriving, he makes that receiving corp even stronger.

    At 6'4", he's truly a red-zone target and a great down field threat with his solid speed and great hands.

    On the other side of the ball, LaDarrell McNeil could also make an impact at the safety position. He's a tough kid, who plays with a very aggressive style that could really help this defense out.

    Tennessee has a total of 22 players arriving in the fall and all of them will try to make a case for playing time.

    It's up to the coaching staff to decide who's ready to take that next step in their career.

Tyler Bray

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    Tyler Bray has the talent to become one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC, but has to play with a little more consistency. His completion percentage also has to continue climbing. He has the receivers to help him out in all of those areas.

    During the spring game, he completed 14-of-26 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown.

    If he can continue to improve heading into his junior year, this team will be on the fast track to winning their first bowl game since 2007.

Offensive Line

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    The Volunteers have a new offensive line coach in Sam Pittman and it will be his job to help piece together a better unit than last seasons.

    Tennessee had a solid passing game, but the ground game was one of the worst in the league as it averaged only 90 yards a contest. 

    “It’s definitely a motivator,” said center Alex Bullard. “We didn’t run the ball the way we needed to last year. We know we have to do better, but at the same time we’re not going to dwell on not being able to run the ball last year." (Via The Times Free Press)

    There is truly not one spot that is guaranteed in this unit, and with solid recruiting classes coming, and most of the players returning, you may see many players switch positions and new faces before a starting five is set in stone.

Who Is the Starting RB?

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    While the running game was pretty much nonexistent last season, that doesn't necessarily mean that this team is short on running backs. 

    With last year starter Tauren Poole no longer on the roster, it opens the door up for three young players in Marlin Lane, Devrin Young and Rajion Neal. All three of them played well in the spring game, especially Lane, who rushed for over 100 yards and two touchdowns.

    But despite the solid performances, head coach Derek Dooley isn't quite ready to name a starter, and says that all three will see significant playing time. (Via the Tennessee Journalist)

    “I think we have three guys who all have different qualities that can help us move the football, and you saw a little spurt of all of it today, so they’re all three good backs,” Dooley said.

Field Goal Kicking

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    Michael Palardy is once again listed as the starter, because there's nobody to compete with him until true-freshman George Bullock arrives this fall.

    The problem is that Palardy only made 64.3 percent of his kicks, which is unacceptable if you're a team that's looking to take that next step.

    Bullock is a versatile player who can punt and kick. He's also stepping on campus with a bunch of confidence.

    “I think they mainly just want me to come in and compete,” Bullock said. “Primarily kickoffs and field goals, if I don’t win the job then I will hopefully be pushing Palardy to get better and show his best. I am looking forward to getting there and competing.” (Via Scout)

    We could have a position battle on our hands.

Coaching Staff

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    While head coach Derek Dooley may or may not be on the hot seat, most of the attention this offseason should be on the other coaches. We're talking about a team that made eight assistant coaching changes, including the entire defensive side of the ball. 

    How will this affect the team and can the coaching staff and players get on the same page in a short amount of time?

    That's one of the more interesting questions heading into fall camp.

Defense

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    Tennessee did a solid job defensively last season, ranked 27th in the entire country and seventh in the defensive minded SEC. They return eight starters on that side of the ball, which usually means there shouldn't be much of a drop-off.

    The problem is that the Volunteers do have a new defensive coordinator in Sal Sunseri, and he's installing a multiple defense, that includes a 3-4 base front. This is a defense that ran mainly the 4-3 defense last season.

    There will be a few players that will be changing positions due to this change and it should be interesting to see just how well this group of players can adjust in a short amount of time.

Wide Receivers

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    One of the things that have to have Volunteer fans most excited this season is the wide-receiver corp. 

    This team returns a 2011 All-Conference player in Da'Rick Rogers, picked up a talented receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson, should be getting a healthy Justin Hunter back and—of course—has an extremely talented tight end in Mychal Rivera.

    With an offense that is this talented, it's really a question if these players can fulfill expectations and stay healthy. Hunter is coming off a torn ACL that forced him to miss majority of last season that started off so promising for the young man.

    Again, if this group of players can play to their potential, there will be several surprised people in SEC country this season.

Stay Healthy

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    While receiver Justin Hunter is likely coming back from an injury, the Volunteers will also get linebacker Herman Lathers back as well.

    Lathers finished second on the team in 2010 with 75 tackles, but ended up missing the entire 2011 season due to an ankle injury.

    Those two players will play a huge part in the Volunteers success this season.

    Spring ball and fall camp is about answering questions your team may have, but half of the battle is remaining healthy. It's important that the Volunteers are able to enter Week 1 with majority of their team intact and avoid another costly injury.

Get off to a Fast Start

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    The Volunteers have had trouble starting the season off correctly the last couple of years, often losing at least two of the first three games. Besides the game against Florida in Week 3, Tennessee doesn't have much of a test the first month of the season.

    If this program would like to build on 11 combined victories the last two seasons, they'll make sure to jump out to a fast start.

    The middle of the schedule gets a little brutal, so they have to take advantage of the weaker teams while they can.