One might describe the outlook for the upcoming season in Knoxville as “fresh.”
The Tennessee Vols bring in new members of the coaching staff, a new quarterback, and an overall new mindset. Coach Dave Clawson, the newly hired offensive coordinator, has been quoted more than once in saying that he wants to "get the ball to the playmakers"—something that Cutcliffe and staff were mildly criticized for not doing enough of.
However, in the end, it will take more than just the words of a coach to get this done, so let’s look at who will help make this happen for the Vols.
The freshness begins under center with Jonathan Crompton, a junior coming off minor surgery. Crompton has seen time before at the college level, including minimal time last year, and—most notably—his two starts during Ainge’s injury in 2006. He has career numbers of five touchdowns and four interceptions.
The positives for Crompton include things such as speed, arm strength, and ability to make a play. He runs fairly well for a quarterback, which is something we couldn’t say about Erik Ainge, and can find his way out of the pocket. You could see his arm strength at work in the Spring Orange and White game (which occurred before the surgery), when he threw a 75-yard touchdown on the first play.
A negative that has popped up the past two seasons and even this spring is his decision making. He has almost as many career interceptions as touchdowns, and threw three in one scrimmage. But overall, I expect him to fill his role well and help the Vols' offense.
The Vols are deep at running back with the likes of Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty, Lennon Creer, and Tauren Poole. Foster is expected to become the all-time leading rusher in Tennessee history, which tells you something about the way the kid can run.
Hardesty can be a real threat if he can find a way to stay injury-free. Creer has shown flashes and had a spring that may suggest good things for the future. Poole has been a positive surprise for the Vols' offense. I believe, although he’s just a freshman, he will get the chance to get some reasonable playing time this year.
All in all, the Vols will be set in the backfield, and Clawson is more than ready to get them the ball.
Tennessee returns receivers Lucas Taylor, Gerald Jones, Austin Rogers, Denarius Moore, and Quintin Hancock. Taylor was a pleasant surprise last year, when he was able to hit 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Jones is just a stockpile of talent that can really play more than one position offensively. You may be familiar with the G-Gun he ran last year, which was very successful including two touchdowns. He also had a huge catch in the wild Kentucky game last year that helped propel the Vols into overtime.
The offense will certainly be different this year for Tennessee and should be fun to watch. Clawson has found ways to get the fans in Knoxville fired up for next year with his fresh ideas and sets.
A defensive breakdown of the Vols may come later in the offseason.