The Tennessee Volunteers completed their second major scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday. After the offense dominated the first scrimmage last week, the defense stepped up and made an impact in the second Orange vs. White affair. The good or bad news (depending how you look at it) is that the defense got their constant pressure and contained the movement of the offense with several starters either out or limited.
The Blazer Chronicles would like to break down the potential starters at each position. These are only predictions as Coach Lane Kiffin has yet to release a depth chart. Tennessee is not releasing stats from its practices and scrimmages so detailed reports are hard to come by. With less than three weeks until the first game against Western Kentucky here are your projected 2009 starters.
Defensive Secondary: Obviously Eric Berry (14) has the starting strong safety spot nailed down, but outside of that there are talented athletes that are all vying for playing time.
Redshirt Freshman Prentiss Waggner (23) should start opposite of Berry at the other safety position, but look for true freshman Janzen Jackson (15) to see playing time there as well.
The Cornerback position is a little more crowded mainly due to former starter Brent Vinson’s (13) injury which has kept him on the sideline. Art Evans (25) was playing the Left Corner Back in Vinson’s place, but he sat out most of last week with an injury.
I believe that Vinson has missed too much time to start right off the bat, and Evans’ injury isn’t serious so he will start the opener. At the other cornerback position, Dennis Rogan (41) will start, barely holding off Sophomore Anthony Anderson (36).
Linebackers: Senior Rico McCoy (5) has missed a lot of time with injuries as well, but that won’t keep him off the field at Weak Side Linebacker. He is Tennessee’s best and most qualified option at a position that I believe is the biggest question mark of the team.
At Strong Side Linebacker, LaMarcus Thompson (42), a 6-1 221 pound Junior should notch the starting score card while former walk-on Junior Nick Reveiz (56) will beat out Redshirt Freshman Herman Lathers (34) for starter, although both will play in Monte’s defensive packages.
Defensive Line: Junior Chris Walker (84) will start at RE when the Vols take the field in September, but the other end spot has bred quite a battle between spring starter Ben Martin (99) and Gerald Williams (57). Williams has dominated of late and I think he will overtake Martin at LE to begin the season. Monte’s system calls for the defensive linemen to make an impact however, so expect fresh legs to be substituted in whenever possible.
Senior Wes Brown (94) is the heart of the defense. The problem is he doesn’t have the knees to be the anchor at left tackle that the Vols demand all season. Wes will start and play as much as physically possible, but once the pain becomes too much look for Freshman Montori Hughes (93) to slide into Brown’s spot.
Nose tackle will be anchored by the big cat, Dan Williams (55). Junior Victor Thomas (52) can play at either tackle spot and should see playing time this fall as well.
Special Teams: Junior Daniel Lincoln (26) needs to bounce back after a bad 2008 season and he will get that chance at placekicker. Chad Cunningham (96) will probably start at punter, but he has been pushed well by California walk-on David Harrington (22). Gerald Jones (4) played at punt returner last season, but with the cast still on his hand and the speed, quickness and raw playmaking ability of true freshman Nu’Keese Richardson (7), look for the diminutive superstar to be the starter. Dennis Rogan and true freshman David Oku (27) would make a nice compliment of kickoff returners on September 5th as well. Eventually, as Eric Berry’s season progresses Kiffin could use him at kick or punt returner in an attempt to develop some stats toward the elusive Heisman Trophy, but only if Tennessee is having a very special season.
Offensive Line: This unit has been pretty much set for most of the spring and fall. The problem that the unit has is depth over the course of the entire season. Luckily it’s early and we don’t have to worry about that in this article.
Senior Josh McNeil (50) is the leader at center even though the walk on Cody Sullins (66) continues to compete. McNeil has had nagging injury problems throughout his career. If he falters, look for Sullins to take over.
Helping plug up the middle is two of the strongest men on the team. Vladimir Richard (51) starts at Left Guard while Jacques McClendon (65) stuffs up the right side at guard.
Senior left tackle Chris Scott (79) has that starting position locked down while the other side has been an everyday battle. Junior Jarrod Shaw (74) has a slight upper hand in the opinion of most, but freshman TE convert Aaron Douglas (78) will see the field.
Tight End is another position that has seen a close battle of former starters. Senior Jeff Cottam (80) will probably get the initial nod however as Junior Luke Stocker (88), who has improved his blocking, has also had bouts of butterfingers.
Running Back is the thickest, most talented position on the team. Senior Montario Hardesty (2) looks the best that he has in his Tennessee career. He will start early, but it will be impossible to keep true freshman stud Bryce Brown (11) off the field. Don’t sleep on Sophomore Tauren Poole (28) however as he has had the most productive scrimmages of the stable. True freshman and number one all-purpose back David Oku (27) brings explosiveness and power to the table as well. Can we just start three running backs; wishbone formation anyone?
When and if the Vols use a “true fullback”, expect to see Junior Kevin Cooper (45) out of the backfield lead blocking and catching flare passes.
Wide Receiver is a position that has seen its share of bites from the injury bug this preseason. Gerald Jones (4) will start when healthy. He has promised he will be ready September 5th, and having watched him myself at practice last week, he will be ready to go barring any further injuries. Brandon Warren (1) has seen his career revitalized with the move to wide receiver and he should see starting time. Nu’Keese is obviously an athlete you want on the field and he will see his time, but I don’t think it will be as a starting wide-out. He will play some of the QB package, line up in the slot, maybe even alongside a speedy back in the backfield, but the other “3-wide” starting wide receiver will be either Senior Quintin Hancock (87) who just LOOKS like a wide receiver at 6-3 207 pounds, or true freshman Marsalis Teague (10) who has shown flashes of brilliance on the practice field. This battle may come down to the final week of practice leading up to kickoff.
Quarterback is the position everyone wants to know about. Not factoring into the starting equation, but worth mentioning is the departure of former baseball player, walk-on Mike Rozier. The starter at the position is still up for grabs but as well as Nick Stephens (17) has played this fall, Senior Jonathan Crompton (8) has probably done, “just enough” to hold onto the spot. Crompton has had that familiar rotation of good play, good play, disaster, but Stephens hasn’t been without error. It will be interesting to see how short Kiffin’s leash is on whoever the starter is.
There you have it, the Blazer Chronicles projected starting lineup for your 2009 Tennessee Volunteers. We will discuss next week any changes or official announcements and then the week after that is Hilltopper week and Blazer Chronicles will have a complete game preview and review. In the meantime, check out http://www.BlazerChronicles.com and don’t forget to tell your friends, tell your enemies and Go Vols!