Blueprint: Vols Have Pieces in Place To Make Fall Run, But Depth A Concern

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Blueprint: Vols Have Pieces in Place To Make Fall Run, But Depth A Concern
KNOXVILLE -- On the surface, things seem promising for Tennessee's football team next fall.

Jonathan Crompton needed to show he could run the Vol offense in spring practice and, after an early struggle, he came on strong. With the entire offensive line that started the final two games returning and all of the receivers except starting tight end Chris Brown, a competent Crompton was the missing piece to the puzzle.

His 13-for-20 effort in the spring game for 266 yards and three TDs on April 19 was the type of showing head coach Phillip Fulmer was looking for. He showed a strong arm, hitting Denarius Moore 30 yards downfield on the first play of the Orange & White game.  And that was with an arm that needed surgery after spring practice.

The wide receiver corps appears solid, with 1,000-yard receiver Lucas Taylor back, along with proven SEC receivers Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe, plus Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore and Quintin Hancock.

So is the running back corps led by Arian Foster, who should finish as the all-time leading rusher in Vol history if he stays healthy. Lennon Creer and Tauren Poole appear capable backups.

The offensive line is deep, experienced and proven, with starters Anthony Parker, Chris Scott, Jacques McClendon, Ramon Foster and center Josh McNeil back, along with top backup Vladimir Richard.

It's on defense where the concern lies. If you can't stop the run and take the ball away from the opponent, it doesn't matter how good your offense is.  You're not going to get the ball as often as you need and there will be pressure to score when you do get it. The problem is depth at defensive tackle.  Dan Williams, Demonte' Bolden and Walter Fisher are a solid, proven group but it ends there.  There is a big dropoff at defensive tackle after those three and talk of playing a 3-4 may resurface because of lack of numbers at defensive tackle.

Backups Chase Nelson, Donald Langley, Victor Thomas and Andre Mathis are largely unproven. How well they progress in the fall will be watched closely.

DEs Robert Ayers and Wes Brown had solid springs and Ben Martin and Chris Walker came in as highly touted prospects. Linebacker has four proven players in Rico McCoy, Ellix Wilson, Nevin McKenzie and Adam Myers-White, but others need to come on there.

The strength of the defense should be in the defensive backfield where Eric Berry, Demetrice Morley, Dennis Rogan, Brent Vinson, Marsalous Johnson and DeAngelo Willingham should be one of the nation's elite groups.

"The last two years, we haven't been able to play five and six defensive backs when we needed to,'' said defensive coordinator John Chavis. "That left us in some back matchup situations with a linebacker on a wide receiver. But I am confident we can put five and six defensive backs on the field at the same time this year.''

* The schedule change should help Tennessee. Before, the Vols were faced with playing UCLA and Florida in back-to-back games. Now, the UCLA game has been moved in front of the Alabama-Birmingham game. The Vols will play UCLA on Sept. 1, get a week off and then play a lesser opponent -- UAB -- before having to host the mighty Gators and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow on Sept. 20.

Still, the schedule is again front-loaded. Auburn follows a week after the Florida game and the Vols have to play at Georgia two weeks later.

It helps to have a game with Northern Illinois sandwiched between Auburn and Georgia.  It may give the coaches a chance to rest some of the walking wounded.

Here is another look at the schedule:

Sept. 1 -- at UCLA, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Sept. 13 -- Alabama-Birmingham
Sept. 20 -- Florida
Sept. 27 -- at Auburn
Oct. 4 -- Northern Illinois
Oct. 11 -- at Georgia
Oct. 18 -- Mississippi State
Oct. 25 -- Alabama
Nov. 1 -- at South Carolina
Nov. 8 -- Wyoming (Homecoming)
Nov. 22 -- at Vanderbilt
Nov. 29 -- Kentucky
Dec. 6 -- SEC Championship Game

* Jerrod Mayo's decision to make himself available for the draft paid off for him. He moved all the way up to No. 10 in the draft and was taken by AFC champion New England, where he is expected to step in and immediately contribute.

Look for Brad Cottam to have a very good pro career. In a sense, it is amazing that he could be picked in the third round of the draft -- though he caught only one TD pass in his career. But he is a player who was hampered by injuries in college and could turn into an all-pro at Kansas City.

The New York Jets made a good choice, taking Erik Ainge in the fifth round. He is smart and has a better arm than it would appear from his play as a senior.  A shoulder injury limited him to a short-passing game.  He has the size, arm strength and mental savvy to be a very successful pro quarterback.

BrainType.com says Ainge has the same brain type as Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Brett Favre and former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning and says that the type of brain you have -- Ainge's and the others are ESTP -- is the biggest determinant toward success in pro football.

* The final basketball recruiting rankings probably won't be out until mid-May, but it would appear Tennessee will have another Top 10 class with the signing of shooting guard Scotty Hopson. He has moved up to No. 5 overall -- making him the highest-rated prospect ever signed by Tennessee (they didn't have such ratings when Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King were in high school). He also gives Tennessee an average of 4.0 for the four players in its signing class in Rivals.com. While Hopson is a 5.0, Philip Jurick, a 6-10, 250-pound center, and Renaldo Woolridge, a 6-8, 205-pound forward, are both 4.0 prospects and point guard Daniel West is a 3.0 prospect.

Florida has two 5.0 signees, a 4.0 and two 3.0 signees, while Alabama has a 5.0 signee and two 4.0s. Tennessee would rank third behind them in the SEC.   Arizona, with a 5.0, two 4.0s and one 3.0 was No. 7 in the nation among early signing classes.

Should the Vols rank in the Top 10 with this class, that would give them two Top 10 classes in three years. Tennessee had a No. 6 class in 2006. Duke Crews and Ramar Smith were both 5.0s, Wayne Chism a 4.0, Marques Johnson a 3.0 and Josh Tabb a 2.0 in that class.
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