This week I got the Sports Illustrated college football preview and not a word was said about my beloved Vols. Because of the negative press with Lane Kiffin's betrayal, the loss of projected starters like Aaron Douglas, Ben Martin, and Bryce Brown to injury and transfer, and the retooling of the coaching staff, Tennessee has been quiet this offseason.
However, after a week of fall camp, the pieces have come together, and 22 players are ready to represent the Tennessee Vols program against UT-Martin in less than three weeks. Freshmen like Jawuan James, Tyler Bray, and Justin Hunter have made their mark on the offensive end and are picking up the slack after slot receiver Marsalis Teague was switched to defense.
Here are the offensive starters for the 2010 Tennessee Vols and their primary backups.
Quarterback- Matt Simms- Junior
Simms may have a weaker arm and slower release than Tyler Bray, but he has two real strengths: Speed and experience. In the spring and fall, Matt Simms has shown the ability to move in the pocket on bootlegs (30 yd pass to Gerald Jones) and even pick up four or five yards with his feet. This could be a huge asset behind Tennessee's paper thin offensive line.
Simms has also had to digest two playbooks and is used to playing in complex formations, like Steve Kragthorpe's at Louisville. He has played two seasons of college ball, holding the clipboard and playing in two games for the Cardinals and throwing for over 2,000 and going undefeated at El Camino Junior College. Even though Bray outgained Simms in the past two scrimmages, Matt Simms will start opening day, but the seat is hot for the more physically talented Bray to take over.
Backup: Tyler Bray- Freshman
Running back- Tauren Poole- Junior
Poole has 32 career carries, but he has been the Vols' most improved player this spring. In the spring scrimmage, he had 101 all purpose yards, showing an uncanny ability to be a safety valve out of the backfield. He has really come a long way from last season where he was the fourth tailback behind Montario Hardesty, Bryce Brown, and David Oku.
But Poole won't have to carry the ball 30 times by himself. Last Friday's scrimmage, showed both Poole and Oku combining for 98 rushing yards on only ten carries. Oku is an excellent speed back who can make plays on sweeps and tosses, whereas Poole is an all around back who can bust the big run and consistently pick up yards in traffic as exemplified by his 49 yard gain in the scrimmage.
Backup: David Oku- Sophomore
Wide Receiver- Gerald Jones- Senior
Even though the Vols picked up a great crop of freshman wideouts, they still return a decent glut of experience. Gerald Jones is a multitalented player who has even played quarterback at Tennessee in the special "G-Gun" formation. He had a breakout year in '09, making 46 catches and having 100+ yard games against Georgia and Kentucky.
He has been the go to guy in the spring, catching six passes and Matt Simms' lone touchdowns. Jones has gained toughness this year and is not afraid to throw a run block. Freshman Justin Hunter will most likely be the slot man this year with his track speed (5 catches for 128 yards in Saturday's scrimmage) and height (6'4").
Backup: Justin Hunter- Freshman
Wide Receiver- Denarius Moore- Senior
Another senior wideout, Denarius Moore has been a big play threat since he set foot in Knoxville. He had 87 yards on 21.8 yards per catch in the Outback Bowl his freshman year and started seven games last year as a junior. After a slow start, Moore came into his own last year and had 39 catches in ten games, including a touchdown in the Chick Fil A Bowl.
This spring, Moore has really become a leader on the Vols' offense. He caught Bray's lone touchdown in the senior game and has become a sure handed possession receiver with a little burst. The past few scrimmages he has been eclipsed by Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, but his edge in experience gives him the starting job over these talented freshmen.
Backup: Da' Rick Rogers- Freshman
Tight End- Luke Stocker- Senior
Luke Stocker has really come a long way since his freshman year. He scored a touchdown against Florida, but was limited to mop up duty until 2009 when he became a red zone beast, catching five touchdowns and gaining a career high 78 yards against Kentucky. Stocker was chosen by SEC Media as the 2nd Team All SEC tight end.
Stocker missed the spring game due to injuries, but he has recently returned to practice, starting the past two scrimmages. His job this season is to coordinate the signals at the line. He may not have the most receiving yards for the Vols this year, but Stocker's leadership will help the offensive meld as a unit. His backup will be Matt Milton, an early enrollee freshman who had five receptions in the spring game and broke off a 66 yard catch and run in the last scrimmage.
Backup: Matt Milton- Freshman
Left Tackle- Dallas Thomas- Sophomore
After freshman phenom Aaron Douglas left the program, it was up to Dallas Thomas to protect Bray or Simms' blind sides. An All Stater in Louisiana, Thomas predominantly played on special teams last season. Originally a defensive tackle, Thomas gained 16 lbs in the offseason, so he could have more girth and play on the line.
Thomas had a tough spring, consistently being outplayed by the Vols' returning sack leader Chris Walker. However, he has come around and didn't allow a sack in the Vols' last scrimmage, shutting down Walker. Dallas is one of three scholarship tackles and won't have a backup.
Right Tackle- Jawuan James- Freshman
A mammoth four star prospect, Jawuan James has shined since spring practice. After a couple practices, he started on the strong side and helped pave the way for Tauren Poole to pick up 101 all purpose yards in the spring game. His size (6'7" 320 lbs) reminds Vol fans of last year's starter Chris Scott, who is playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
James was on the rivals.com All America team, and he is another blue chip recruit picked up from UGA's backyard. If he continues to work on his foot speed, James' size could deter SEC pass rushers like Marcel Dareus of Alabama and Cliff Matthews of South Carolina. Depth is thin at tackle, so James will play ahead of converted defensive tackle/center hybrid Daniel Hood
Backup: Daniel Hood- Freshman
Left Guard- JerQuari Schofield- Freshman
One of Tennessee's nine freshmen on the two deep is a three star recruit from South Carolina. Schofield weighs in at 331 lbs and can easily match up with interior linemen after a redshirt year of conditioning. Schofield has been outplayed this spring by defensive linemen Montori Hughes and Marlon Walls and has been slow to pick up Justin Wilcox's new blitzes.
Because he has been inconsistent in the fall and spring, Schofield will be pushed by true freshman James Stone. Stone has SEC ready size (297 lbs) and is a native Tennessean from Nashville who enrolled in the fall. Swayed by Derek Dooley to attend Tennessee, Stone has the leverage to play guard and could continue the competition for the starting spot well into the season.
Backup: James Stone- Freshman
Right Guard- Jarrod Shaw- Senior
A fifth-year senior, Shaw is the only Vol offensive lineman that has any starting experience. He is a jack of all trades and a master at none, starting three games at left tackle and struggling against Florida and Carlos Dunlap. In addition to left tackle, Shaw played guard last season and even played some center this spring, struggling to snap the ball.
In order for the Vols to run the ball inside with Poole, Shaw must stand his ground, which he has allowing Poole and Oku to rush for nine and five yards per carry respectively. Jarrod Shaw has become a leader this spring and is definitely the Vols' biggest X factor on offense. An enormous (6'4" 315 lbs) freshman Zach Fulton will play behind him and also compete for playing time at left guard.
Backup: Zach Fulton- Freshman
Center- Cody Pope- Junior
Former high school tight end Cody Pope has bulked up over four years at Tennessee and become the front runner at center. He had never played the position until last year when he moonlighted at center in a blowout versus Memphis. Pope is a smart player (2008 Academic All SEC) who is really catching on and learning the presnap signals.
He does have to improving his pass blocking as freshman Corey Miller had a huge night against (1 sack, 2 TFLs). Along with Shaw, Cody Pope is the only returning offensive lineman who has game experience, and he will be counted on to avoid foolish false start penalties from the many freshmen in this unit. His backup is Carson Anderson, a former Alabama All State center who played in two games last year.
Backup: Carson Anderson- Sophomore.
Please comment on who you think the starters are going to be, and the defensive projected two deep should be up next week. Go Vols!