New Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is looking to follow in the footsteps of his father, the legendary Vince Dooley, in resurrecting a Southeastern Conference program. In 1964, Papa Dooley managed a 7-3-1 record and a Sun Bowl victory in his first outing with the Bulldogs. Forty-four years later, Dooley Jr. will face a much tougher test, in a far more competitive and expanded version of the SEC.
The Volunteers 2010 schedule is arguably more daunting than the 2009 version that first year head coach Lane Kiffin faced. Dooley's squad will host Oregon following a Week One warm-up against UT-Martin. Then the fun begins...Florida, UAB, @ LSU, @ Georgia, with a bye week before defending national champions Alabama visit Knoxville. Throw in an extra road trip to South Carolina and a November visit from Ole Miss and you've got yourself a schedule that can leave an entire fanbase with a football hangover by Halloween.
After losing their +1,000 yard rusher, senior quarterback, the entire offensive line and All-American safety Eric Berry, it's a wonder the Volunteers don't throw in the towel now and keep their new head coach's hair dark for next season's media guide cover. Yet, this is still one of the prime programs of SEC football, and despite the turmoil of the past two years, there is still talent across the board.
Here are the top five players who must have an impact if Tennessee wants to save face in 2010...
James is 6'6 and expected to top 300 lbs. by the beginning of the 2010 season. After losing multiple starting lineman to graduation, or amongst the confusing coaching carousel, James should be expected to get ample playing time in his first year in Knoxville.
A native of North Gwinnett, Georgia, was listed as a four-star recruit by Scout.com coming out of high school. Experts have noted James' ability to run block, especially at the left tackle position, which should be a plus for the Volunteers, who many expect to stick to the ground while breaking in two new quarterbacks.
There's no doubt James will be overwhelmed at times, considering he is a bit undersized and facing some of the toughest competition in the country in SEC play. However, if the freshman can soak up the play time and turn it into hard experience, the Volunteers could benefit from his services sooner rather than later.
Son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms and brother of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms, there's no doubt that football runs in this family. Volunteers fans are just hoping this apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
A three-star quarterback coming out of high school in 2007, the now 6'3, 220 pound Simms is looking to lead the Vols after returning senior Nick Stephens departed the team in early spring. A fresh offensive line must provide Simms time to find his talented, young receivers, including Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. If not, it could be a rough learning experience for the QB.
On the bright side, Simms' impressive workouts at quarterbacks camps was even enough to merit a twitter from ESPN's NFL expert Chris Mortensen, who described the athlete as.. "the wow guy tonight was Simms - he wowed his peers with arm strength especially, accuracy and spinning it."
A five-star recruit and the second-rated receiver of the 2010 class, Rogers was easily Tennessee's biggest victory of its latest recruiting efforts. At 6'3, 210 pounds, the receiver is a physically gifted athlete, who's youth and inexperience can be made up in size, speed and power.
A native of Calhoun, Georgia, Rogers will look to lead the mostly young Volunteer receiving corps, in a larger effort to beautify what should be a mostly ugly transition at quarterback for Tennessee in 2010. Scouts have labeled Rogers as an "smaller Calvin Johnson," noting his solid hands, quick speed (4.4, 40 yard dash) and excellent size.
Long committed to the Bulldogs, Rogers surprised fans when he switched to the Volunteers late in the recruiting season. Should be an interesting side story when Dooley and his young Vols visit Athens on October 9th...
Poole could easily be the player under the radar for Tennessee in 2010. After a 2009 campaign in which he only accumulated 85 yards while playing third string to Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown, Poole eagerly awaited his chance to showcase his skills.
A three-star recruit in 2008, Poole hails from Toccoa, Georgia, (do you see the Georgia trend here?), where in high school he had 1,000+ yard seasons and served as a valuable backfield receiver.
In the spring game, Poole snagged 101 all-purpose yards, 50 on the ground, earning much praise from Dooley and his staff. In fall scrimmages, Poole has acted as first-team running back, with sophomore David Oku serving as second string.
If Poole can turn the corner and become the talented running back scouts foresaw two years ago, the Volunteers could have a far more balanced offense than the experts predict.
There was no greater loss to the Tennessee roster in perhaps the last five years than the loss of safety Eric Berry, who praised Jackson before leaving Knoxville for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now the UT secondary is looking for a new leader and fans and coaches alike expect it to be Jackson.
The former five-star from Lake Charles, Louisiana has a football mind to go along with a 6'1 frame and 190 pound exterior. If you want an example of his hitting ability, Youtube Jackson's truck-like hit of Florida's Brandon James last season.
As a freshman, Jackson had 35 tackles, one forced fumble and an interception in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, returning it 29 yards. Jackson is a speedy ball-hawk who will disrupt many SEC quarterbacks this fall and frighten SEC receivers in the open field. If the Tennessee defense plans to have any similar success to last season's unit, it will all start with Jackson.