Tennessee Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Volunteers' Week 2 Game
The Tennessee Volunteers are undefeated, ranked and the odds-on favorite to win their annual bout with Florida this weekend. It has been many years since the Big Orange has had this kind of buzz around the program.
The players in the passing game earned high grades, while the running game was just slightly above average. The UT defense is still a bit of a question mark at certain areas, and with grades ranging from XX to A+, that's reflected in the starter's weekly grades.
The defense will only improve as the season progresses. The switch to the 3-4 took Georgia several weeks, but the Vols needs to grow up fast to perform well against No.18 Florida. I'll be hard-pressed not to give the entire team an A+ if Tennessee ends its seven-year losing streak against the Gators.
Here's one final look at how the starters did last week...
QB: Tyler Bray
After tying for third for the school record of consecutive completions (13), completing 90 percent of his passes on 20 attempts, slinging the ball for over 300 yards and four touchdowns, it's hard to give Tyler Bray any less than an A+ for his performance against Georgia State.
The big test comes this weekend against Florida. He was less than stellar last year against the Gators.
TB: Rajion Neal
Rajion Neal earned a C+ for his play against NC State last week, but he was better against Georgia State (I sure would hope). He averaged five yards per carry and scored two rushing touchdowns.
The running game is still a little bit shaky, but after Marlin Lane's second quarter fumble, Neal has the chance to take the reins of the starting job.
FB: Ben Bartholomew
Ben Bartholomew's grade of C should be viewed as what Cs in school mean–average. There's nothing wrong with that, especially when you play fullback. Bartholomew wasn't involved in the passing game in Week 2 and didn't do a lot of run-blocking.
But he started, so we gotta grade him.
WR: Justin Hunter
After a quiet Week 1, it was great to see Justin Hunter get back into his groove. He led all receivers with eight receptions, 148 yards and three touchdowns. Hunter became the first receiver to catch three touchdowns for the Vols since Chris Hannon in 2003.
After he cleanly receives his first pass against Florida, a weight will be lifted off his shoulders. It was the first reception of last year's game that left Hunter with a season-ending injury.
WR: Cordarrelle Patterson
I'm not trying to rain on the Cordarrelle Patterson parade, but he receives a slightly lower grade this past weekend because he never reached the end zone. He did have a jaw-dropping 45-yard reception and a 61-yard kick return that nearly went the distance.
CP has incredible cutting ability and uses it often. I'm hoping he uses it wisely going forward because defenders will start taking notice that they can catch him from behind.
TE: Mychal Rivera
Similar to Justin Hunter, Mychal Rivera's coming out party for the 2012 season was against Georgia State. On his 22nd birthday, Rivera reeled in three passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
One of the other two catches set up the first touchdown of the day for Tennessee, a goal-line run by Rajion Neal. He needs to continue working on sealing off the end for his running backs.
LT: Antonio Richardson
Antonio Richardson jumped early twice in Week 1. He had no penalties against the Panthers. That's the kind of improvement I like to see.
LG: Dallas Thomas
Dallas Thomas is a steady force on the offensive line and is a huge reason Tennessee is able to play Antonio Richardson at left tackle. Having a three-year starter beside you is a big help.
C: James Stone
James Stone had several snapping issues last year. On a sloppy, rainy day, each and every snap was right where it should have been. Last year's problems have yet to appear in 2012.
Against Florida, Stone had a tough time hiking the ball. Like Justin Hunter, this weekend will exorcise some demons.
RG: Zach Fulton
After being named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week against NC State even with a key false start penalty, an infraction-less Saturday for Zach Fulton was met with no accolades. Go figure.
Fulton and Dallas Thomas make a reliable SEC offensive guard duo. It seems a consistent running game is just on the horizon.
RT: Ja'Wuan James
The offensive line did a B+ job as a whole, if you haven't caught on yet. Ja'Wuan James is quietly one of the better tackles in the conference.
James and Antonio Richardson have been brilliant in pass-blocking this year, giving up just one sack and allowing Tyler Bray and Co. plenty of time to get open.
DE: Maurice Couch
Maurice Couch is slowly showing the Tennessee Volunteers why he was one of the top JUCO players coming out community college last year. He won't blind you with his speed, but his strong, bulky frame is perfect for a 3-4 defensive end.
He needs to disrupt the offense more by getting into the backfield.
NT: Daniel McCullers
After laying a statistical goose egg in Week 1, big Danny McCullers tallied his first tackle as a Vol. He was more involved in the NC State game, even without the stats, but I hardly noticed him against Georgia State.
Maybe Derek Dooley was resting the big fella for the titanic matchup this weekend, but it would be great to see McCullers get more involved this weekend by clogging up some running holes.
(P.S. Any other Vol fans get flashbacks of John Henderson seeing a tall, imposing figure on the defensive line wearing No. 98?)
DE: Darrington Sentimore
I was pretty hard on Darrington Sentimore last week, giving him one of my lowest grades.
While he didn't rack up a bunch of tackles this week, he did sack Georgia State quarterback Ben McLane for 11 yards to stifle a solid drive the Panthers were putting together in the first quarter.
OLB: Willie Bohannon
Filling in for Curt Maggitt, Willie Bohannon did a terrific job at outside linebacker. He applied constant pressure on the quarterback, resulting in a nine-yard sack and two quarterback hurries.
I certainly hope Maggitt's turf toe injury is behind him heading into the Florida game, but Bohannon is a quality backup.
ILB: A.J. Johnson
Though he hasn't begun the tackling extravaganza this season yet, A.J. Johnson is as dependable as they come. Throughout spring, summer and fall practice, Herman Lathers was the leader of the defense.
With Lathers out, there has been no hiccup from the linebackers, and that was true against Geogia State. Johnson's five tackles were tied for third-most on the team.
ILB: Dontavis Sapp
Understanding the expectations for a player like Dontavis Sapp, I have been very pleased with his play at inside linebacker. There's a good chance he could get another start this weekend.
Sapp was involved in several key plays in Week 2, tackling two Panthers for loss and adding two others.
OLB: Jacques Smith
It's time for Jacques Smith to become what we all think he can be. As a junior, Smith has only shown flashes of brilliant speed and tackling ability. He managed just one tackle this past weekend and no sacks.
In order for the Maggitt-Smith combination to be effective, he has to be more of a threat from the other side.
CB: Prentiss Waggner
Quarterbacks are going to start showing Prentiss Waggner more and more respect as the weeks pass. In limited action, he tackled three Panthers and forced a fumble.
Waggner has a nose for the ball in key situations, and the inexperienced quarterback(s) at Florida may test the senior one too many times.
CB: Marsalis Teague
Speaking of seniors, the Volunteers are starting another at cornerback opposite Prentiss Waggner. Marsalis Teague may not have the raw athletic ability of some defensive backs, but he is trustworthy.
There are still moments when the secondary breaks down and allows big plays, and those have to be stopped. The 3rd-and-20 conversion against Georgia State simply can't happen in the SEC.
S: Brian Randolph
Brian Randolph was on a tackling spree Saturday. His seven were the most on the team, and he constantly broke up passing plays. The true sophomore has been a blessing for Tennessee since his emergence as the most dependable safety last year.
I would challenge that along with the next player on this list, he makes up the best safety duo in the country...
S: Byron Moore
I am officially a member of the Brian Randolph-Byron Moore fan club. Moore is only a redshirt sophomore but is playing like a four-year veteran. Of course, this needs to continue into SEC play.
Following his eight-tackle debut against NC State, Moore brought down five players in Week 2. Most of those were in the early-going, when the offense was having trouble finding its rhythm.
Other Notable Starters
Michael Palardy, F
Palardy has officially lost the starting job at kicker. Derrick Brodus will get the nod against Florida this week after Palardy missed a 39-yard field goal and his second extra point of the year.
He has been terrific in kickoffs, though, and that's a role I'd like to see him keep.
Matt Darr, C-
In one punt, Darr booted the ball just 35 yards. Not good.
Devrin Young, A
Young has been excellent in his second year as the primary return man. He calls for the fair catch at the perfect times, knows when to let the ball bounce and can take it 40 yards up the field on a return if there's a seam. He did that against Georgia State.