Tennessee the X Factor in the SEC: Part One
With the loss of Lane Kiffin and Bryce Brown, people are underestimating Tennessee.
Although they lack hype, they are a team to be feared, and as Alabama almost learned, they are a serious competitor. This is part one of the examination of Tenn, and focuses on their offense.
There are an immense amount of questions on offense for the Volunteers. With a new quarterback, coordinator, and an inexperienced line expectations are low.
However, there is a large amount of young promise at the skill positions of receiver and running back, and a massive potential for growth through the entire team. If the new coordinator, Jim Chaney, can get the offense to gel early, the Vols can be as good as the classically efficient Vol offenses.
As scout.com reports, all five starters at the line have to be replaced, but this line is distinctly more talented than the last. The key is experience and this offense will take leaps and bounds as they continue to play.
Expect this offense to lean more on the run even with an inexperienced line, and focus on ball control and dominating the turnover margin.
The quarterback is a major question mark for the Vols. Scout.com has the transfer from Louisville, Matt Simms, listed at the top of the depth chart. Some other services suggest that Tyler Bray, a true freshman, will win the job.
Matt Simms is a serious pedigree quarterback. Both his Dad and his brother can play serious ball (recognize the last name?). His measurables are 6'3" and 209 pounds, with decent speed, and a good arm.
He has experience throwing for over 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns at El Camino CC. That said, he also had trouble taking care of the ball with 12 interceptions.
The most important factor with Matt is the love that his team has for him. His coach raved about him, and he shows all the leadership characteristics of a real time QB. If he can improve on not forcing the pick, he will be a key leader for this young offense.
Tyler Bray is an amazing physical specimen with a 6'6" size and an incredible arm. However, he is only 210 pounds and exceptionally thin. There are worries that his body, as it is, will not hold up at the college level without strength training and time.
That said, this kid is simply too good to keep out of the lineup. He will definitely get some snaps, and might even take the starting job later in the season depending on how Simms does. He may not blowup this year, but in a few years you will know Tyler Bray.
Another unproven element of the Tennessee attack. The only difference being that these kids are unreal good. Expect three backs to run by a form of committee, with each having their own specialized skills.
The first major running back is Tauren Poole. He fell out of favor with the old regime, but seized upon the chance of a new one. This kid is everything you would hope for in a running back with the heart to always give his all every down.
Poole is 5'11" and 213 pounds, and can beat defenses in every way. He is a speedster, but still has some weight to gain a few yards after contact. Expect him, if any, to get a majority of carries.
The second major running back is David Oku. Although slightly undersized, Oku can really turn on that extra gear. With a great nose for the end zone, and quick decisive movements, Oku is a home run threat every time he gets space.
The final of the trio is redshirt freshman Toney Williams. With huge size at 6'1" 212 lbs, he is coming off an ACL tear and having trouble rediscovering cutback abilities. That said, this kid smashes through even defensive linemen, and is apparently built of steel. It is going to be impossible to stop Williams on third and short situations, and he almost always gets yards after contact.
Although young, this group is full of talent and promise. They will only get better.
Tennessee is blessed with some seriously talented top-end receivers. While the depth is a major question (running theme?) there should be no doubt that these receievers can create separation and come up with big plays.
It all starts with Gerald Jones, who is a genuine number one receiver. After suffering an ankle injury and ceding his punt return duties, Jones has become an incredibly polished receiver. Last year he caught 46 passes for 680 yards. That's a 14 YPC average.
He doesn't have massive size at 6' and 195 pounds, but the kid is devastatingly quick and impossible to bring down in space. Now that he is healthy, expect him to assist with the breaking-in of the new QBs immensely. (Possible Comparison: Jordan Shipley helping Garrett Gilbert in the NC ring a bell?)
The second major receiver is Denarius Moore. He is about the same size as Gerald Jones, but he is much more of a deep threat. Not only that, but he has some of the steadiest hands on the team, catching three or more passes in each of the final nine games. Expect Moore to catch the game-changing balls for huge yardage while defenses worry about Jones.
The final, and by all means, best offensive player on the team is Luke Stocker.
A tight end, Stocker could've easily been a top 100 NFL draft pick last year had he declared. Good thing he didn't for the Vols, as he is on the watchlist for All-SEC and even All-American honors.
With huge size at 6'6" and 253 pounds this kid can bulldoze the opposing secondaries and has the softest hands some of the coaches have ever seen. He is a red zone target, and is also a premier blocker. he will be asked to do it all this year, and you can only expect that he will.
With just one veteran, Jarred Shaw, people are predicting that this line won't hold up in the tough SEC.
Their foes are in for an unpleasant surprise when they face the Vols. Although inexperienced, this line is oozing talent, with definite future NFL draft picks.
The only question is when they will gel to become one of the most dominate lines in the country.
Yes, Derek Dooley and Jim Chaney have their work cut out for them. But they have some seriously good kids to work with.
Chock full of talent, more speed than they've seen in a long time, and immense heart, this team will be good.
Expect the screen pass to become a staple with such good skill players and an inexperienced line. That said, this team will quickly evolve into being able to run the ball extremely well, and as the QB ages like a fine wine, this team will definitely become a serious contender.