Tennessee Volunteers Spring Conclusions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Joel BarkerSenior Writer IApril 17, 2010

It was the fans' first look at another new coach's Tennessee Vols team.

I won't say that it was all that impressive either. But there were moments, glimpses, if you will, of what this team could be eventually.
There were no electric plays. Nothing that would remind you of anything 'prolific' as far as the offense is concerned.
There was the same old defense. That lunch-pail crew that shows up and plays its head off play after play.
If anything, Derek Dooley has kept the majority of this team together—playing as a unit. Even if that unit may not be one of the best in the SEC.
Here are my initial thoughts regarding Tennessee's spring game.

The Good

If you watched the game, the obvious best first impression was of freshman quarterback, Tyler Bray. The kid was flat smoking the ball at his receivers. Sure, there were some miscues—throwing into coverage at least three times and overthrowing WRs—but the poise Bray showed in the pocket and his apparent confidence in himself were great signs for an 18-year-old kid.

• Sophomore RB Tauren Poole is simply the best running back on the team. I hate to make comparisons, but I could not help but see a little Charlie Garner in this kid. When you thought he was wrapped up he'd squirt away from the tackle.

• The other RB, David Oku, is destined to make noise on special teams. When this kid gets in the open field, the sky is the limit.

• At wide receiver, freshman Matt Milton impressed. He did drop a rocket pass into his bread basket from Bray, but other than that Milton should be a contributor at some point in 2010.

• Gerald Jones was clearly the WR of the day. The guy made spectacular catch after another. He was, by far, Simms' favorite target all day long. I would expect Jones to remain an integral part on a young offense.

• On defense, DBs Eric Gordon and Janzen Jackson ruled the day. Naz Oliver looked great back there as well. Freshmen like DEs Jacques Smith and Corey Miller made the most of their first spring in Knoxville as well—both looked like upperclassmen. Both will be special.

• Kicker Chip Rhome was a pleasant surprise with three made field goals on the day, including one from 42 yards out.


The Bad

• The other QB, Matt Simms, had a rough day. The Ju-Co transfer looked a lot more like Jonathan Crompton circa 2008, rather than his Super Bowl MVP father, Phil. No one was going to make the comparison to his father anyway, but many thought he'd be a lot better than he was Saturday. His three interceptions were the result of bad O-Line play and terrible decision making on his part.

• A lot of Poole's success was his playmaking ability. I'll give him that. But there's no doubt that tackling issues on the Orange team helped him along. For a unit that included linebackers Greg King and LaMarcus Thompson that was quite a surprise.


The Ugly

• This patchwork offensive line is going to struggle. To refer to the line as "suspect" is the understatement of the century. Apparently Matt Simms and the Orange team got the shortest end of the already short stick.

The O-Line is virtually depth-less. There are going to be issues on that unit all season long. That cannot bode well for a quarterback that will be seeing his first SEC action.


Obviously, this spring game should not be taken as the "be-all, end-all" but it was our first look at Derek Dooley's Vols. And what we saw was a young, inexperienced offense put up anemic numbers (two touchdowns and three field goals total).

We also saw what could be, yet another, top SEC defensive unit.

There's still hope that the remainder of the Vols first year players, set to arrive for Fall practice will add some much needed depth, especially on the offensive line.

If that unit comes together and a firm answer at quarterback is established, Tennessee could make a little noise in the upcoming season.

As it sits right now, however, you should not expect this team to sniff the top 25 in 2010.

The overall outlook for Dooley's program is potentially bright. Vols fans will be thanking Lane Kiffin for Tyler Bray in the distant future. I don't know that his prospects for starting in 2010 are that great. Although that possibility remains if he can put on another 10-pounds or so before fall practice begins.

Expect the defense to stay dominant under coordinator Justin Wilcox. The Vols certainly are not hurting for talent on that side of the ball.

Things will get better, Vols fans. It might appear to get worse before getting better, but as they say, "It's always darkest before the dawn."