Tennessee Football: 10 New Vols Starters To Watch in 2010
The summer heat isn't as hot. The leaves are just beginning to turn. Students are heading back to class. Student athletes are looking at game film. Head coaches have begun their daily ulcer prevention regimen.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's college football time in America.
It's a new season for every college football program in the country. A time for teams to put last year behind them and set out to form a new identity. At no place in America is this more welcomed than at the University of Tennessee.
A blowout loss to a much better Virginia Tech team in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is the last memory that the Big Orange faithful have of their beloved Vols.
Of course, the offseason turmoil including the abrupt departure of Phillip Fulmer's replacement at head coach leaving for somewhat greener pastures at Southern Cal, the second head coaching search in a little over a year, and a mass defection of talented players, have made this offseason rather forgettable.
Now, it's time to officially put all of that in the past and focus on the 2010 Tennessee Volunteers. With that said, Vols fans might have to endure a tough season based on the loss of such talented players and a lack of depth, but Tennessee fans will still have plenty to cheer about at times this season because of the addition of a host of talented newcomers at the top of the depth chart.
Here are just a few of the newbies that will have Vols fans singing Rocky Top more than once this season.
Quarterback, Matt Simms
Well, obviously. You can't have a new quarterback and not have him a part of this list, right?
By all accounts, Simms has been the guy since day one of spring. There was a mini-quarterback-battle, but it was never really an actual controversy. Simms' backup, true freshman Tyler Bray, was never going to be relied upon to take the helm of this offense in 2010. He is, after all, "10-feet tall and 90-pounds" as some teammates and even Dooley has said more than once over the past few months.
Simms has limited experience from his days with Louisville, but the Ju-Co transfer led his El Camino College team to a championship in '09. Dooley recently said of Simms, "His game management is just a lot better than Tyler (Bray's) right now."
Some folks view "game manager" as a euphemism for, "not-very-good."
Dooley admitted as much to reporters last week when he said, "I don't know why people view that (being a game-manager) as a negative," Dooley said. "I think it's because people say it sometimes when a guy can't throw it a lick, when he can just hand the ball off real well. That's not what I mean."
Simms will have a steep learning curve in getting used to the speed of SEC defenses in 2010, but Dooley and the Vols coaching staff feel comfortable with him under center. And by most accounts, Simms is pretty comfortable back there himself.
Right Tackle, Ja'Wuan James
So much has been made of this offensive line and it's lack of experience, lack of depth, and just overall lack. One of the lone bright spots of that unit has been true freshman Ja'Wuan James.
James was an early enrollee for the Vols and it has showed. Still, coach Derek Dooley admits, “I’m as comfortable as probably any coach could ever be with a true freshman starting at right tackle.
Dooley went on, "Ja’Wuan could barely breathe in the mock game from anxiety, and there was nobody in the stands. So you can’t forget he’s a true freshman."
In other words, there will be growing pains. But Dooley was still complimentary of James when he said, "But he’s extremely mature. He’s very balanced. He’s intelligent. He’s going to be a really good player."
Dooley is not worried about talent on the offensive line. It's a matter of experience, or the lack thereof that matters to the coach.
"I’ve always never had a lot of concern about our offensive line, other than the lack of experience. And I can’t fix that. But as far as the talent level and the willingness and the work ethic and the size and the toughness, I feel good about those guys," said Dooley.
Of those new guys on the O-Line, none is more inexperienced than the true freshman, James, but none may be more talented either.
Center, Cody Pope
If there's a poster-boy for how scary the inexperience of this offensive line, it's probably junior Cody Pope. Pope just moved to center from guard at the end of the '09 season and has played in just four games in his two seasons as a member of the team.
Now, the converted guard will start at center. Hey, no pressure, kid.
Dooley chimed in on Pope recently as well. "Cody Pope’s never played center in his life. Can’t say that after next Saturday,” said the first year Vols head coach.
The Volnation will know rather quickly if Pope is up to the task or not. Oregon will bring one of the Pac 10's top defensive line's to Knoxville in week two.
Wide Receiver, Justin Hunter
To hear just about everyone tell it, Justin Hunter is a truly remarkable athlete who is destined for great things at UT. His coach, teammates, and even the media have been singing his praises since the beginning of fall camp. One slight problem, he still hasn't been cleared by the NCAA.
That's not something that Dooley is happy about either.
Dooley recently told reporters, “Well, he hasn’t up to now, but we expected him to be (cleared). I was hoping before practice today. The indications we’re getting are we’re going to get an answer soon. So I still don’t have any resolution on that. Obviously, if he’s not cleared, he won’t be our two. But y’all know my frustration with this, and there’s not much I can say more about it.”
There's no doubt that the former track star and basketball star will contribute greatly as a starter for the Vols when and if he finally gets clearance.
Wide Receiver, Da'Rick Rogers
The nation's No. 9 overall prospect, according to rivals.com, is ready to contribute immediately as well. Rogers is listed in the two-deep on the depth chart heading into Saturday's season opener against UT-Martin.
Rogers seet records, made highlight reel catches, and became one of the nation's top players at Calhoun High School in North Georgia during his high school career.
He's made quite the impression in camp as well.
Rogers is very quick and has the playmaking ability that the Vols have needed more of at the wide receiver position for quite sometime.
Cornerback, Eric Gordon
Redshirt freshman, Eric Gordon has drawn some praise this fall as well. The cornerback has been reportedly knocking guys around and making plays since camp started.
On Gordon, Dooley recently said, "Eric is a real physical guy. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s a feisty competitor."
Gordon was a highly touted prospect out of Nashville in '09 and was part of Lane Kiffin's first and only class at Tennessee.
Defensive End, Malik Jackson
Malik Jackson transferred to Tennessee shortly after the NCAA dropped the hammer on USC. Jackson was told by USC assistant coach, Ed Orgeron, that he wouldn't start at Tennessee if he left the Trojans. Truth is, Jackson probably would have started his fair share of games for USC had he stayed.
With the achilles injury to Ben Martin early in fall camp, Jackson became an immediate favorite to take over the starting spot at one of the Vols deepest positions.
Jackson played in 10 games for the Trojans last season, registering 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
Expect to hear Jackson's name quite a bit for the Vols defense this season.
Defensive Tackle, Gerald Williams
Speaking of defensive ends, Gerald Williams is, or should I say, was one of the many ends on this team until injuries necessitated his moving to defensive tackle.
Of the Williams move, Dooley told reporters "Will Gerald be a better tackle than he will an end? No. But he’ll be better playing probably than, you know, the next defensive tackle.
Still, Dooley expects to run a DT-by-committee this season, since that already-thin-unit was decimated by injuries during fall practice.
He also expects Williams to play some at defensive end as well.
Obviously playing a 250-pound defensive tackle has it's disadvantages as well. When Dooley was asked when was the last time he had played a 250-pound defensive tackle at Monday's press conference, Dooley said, "“I think we had one at Clarke Central, when I was in high school."
Another reporter chimed in, asking if Dooley thought Williams could be bigger than that. Dooley's response, “I think that’s soaking wet. Got to be quick. You know, back in the old days some of the greatest d-tackles ever were about that size. So we’re going old-school.”
Strong Safety, Prentiss Waggner
Safety is one spot on the field where the Vols have had no worries for the last three years. Eric Berry just became the highest paid safety in the history of the NFL after being one of the best safeties in all of college football for three years.
Enter, Prentiss Waggner. Waggner played in every game last season, and even started twice last year during Janzen Jackson's absence.
His experience and talent in the secondary should help to anchor a very young unit.
Running Back, Tauren Poole
This is what you call, saving the best for last.
There has never been any question concerning Poole's ability. There's just always been someone a little better in front of him. Well, at least that's what we were lead to believe during Kiffin tenure anyway.
There were constant reports out of practice and scrimmages that Poole outplayed former No. 1 prospect Bryce Brown all over the field, but due to Kiffin's promises to the next great running back at Tennessee, Brown, Poole never stood a chance to crack the two-deep.
Well, that's not the case anymore. Poole is finally the man at running back.
The junior has shown explosiveness and playmaking ability in mop-up duty over the last two seasons. But seeing the moves, the ability to shake off tacklers, and the speed should make any orange-clad vol fanatic excited about the prospects of Poole starting all season long.