Tennessee Vols Football: 10 Things To Look For In Week 1 vs. UT-Martin
Derek Dooley makes his Neyland Stadium debut on Saturday against the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks. Don't look for much of a challenge for the Vols in this one and don't expect it to get much time on Sportscenter.
There are still lots of reasons to circle this game on the calendar.
Here's ten things to pay attention to while the Vols are running up the score on Saturday.
Picking up the Tennessee coordinator reigns from defensive genius Monte Kiffin or pulling together the pieces after losing what may be the greatest safety in the history of college football in Eric Berry with little to no defensive linemen- Which is worse?
UT defensive guru Justin Wilcox is charged with both. Wilcox may be Dooley's best offseason hire. At Boise State he worked miracles with lesser players by devising creative schemes that confused opposing offenses.
Tennessee players have publicly marveled at Wilcox's schematics. The Tennessee DC won't show his hand against a depleted UT-Martin, but Vol fans get a chance to glimpse Wilcox before his coming out party when Oregon rolls into town next week.
Juco Transfer Matt Simms beat talented freshman Tyler Bray for the starting nod at quarterback.
Simms has been touted for his leadership in the offseason by both players and coaches. Scouts also spoke highly of Simms performance at the Peyton Manning Camp in the summer.
Unfortunately, Simms isn't playing with the kind of offensive line that his brother had at Texas or that his father had in New York.
Simms ability to manage the game under pressure behind the Vols' thin offensive line is key to the UT's success this year. Simms should be able to excel against the Skyhawks. If he struggles to get plays off against UT-Martin it may be a sign of bad things to come for the Vols.
For all the Vols losses on offense in the offseason-NFL draft picks QB Jon Crompton and RB Monterrio Hardesty are playing on Sundays now, Luke Stocker remains a trusted receiver and blocker for Tennessee.
Stocker, a senior from Kentucky, had a chance to pursue the NFL but chose to return for a year in Dooley's tight-end favored offense.
If Stocker can get his hands on the ball for UT this season, it's a good sign. If Simms can't find Stocker against the young and thin defense of the Skyhawks, don't expect things to get much better against Oregon.
If you don't hear Stocker's name on Saturday, it's a sign that this will be a long year for UT fans.
The New Neyland
It's not cool to talk about cosmetics on game day, but, if this game goes as easily as expected, it might be a good time to take note of recent changes to Neyland Stadium.
The Vols home has been upgraded with new brick walls and historic photos on the front side, a new ampitheater for listening to pre and post game radio programs live, and the home team will be standing on a new sideline of the stadium during the game. Longtime Neyland visitors will note that the Vols will finally standing in the shade during a game instead of basking in the sunshine.
This may be the only "give me" game on the Vols schedule that will allow a no-stress victory stroll though the new facilities.
Derek Dooley's Hair
Dooley has been noted for his perfectly styled, never ruffled locks. If his career lasts, he could someday compete with former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson for "hair least likely to move under pressure".
If Dooley's hair remains styled on Saturday without any wear and tear from hat throwing or headset tossing, the Vols have a chance to make a bowl game this season. If the Skyhawks give Dooley even the slightest ruffle imagine what the Crimson Tide will do?
Vol fans should hope for a perfect hair day in Knoxville on Saturday.
Few things are as divisive among Vol faithful as the name "Phil Fulmer" these days. The coach with the most recent national championship for the Volunteers and the second most wins had a rocky breakup with Tennessee and many fans were ready to see him go.
What fans did not want to see leave with Fulmer were the traditions that, as a former Tennessee player, he embraced so readily. Among those were his commitment to saying Neyland's maxims before gameday in the locker room and his embrace of the pageantry of the pregame festivities like the Vol Walk. Lane Kiffin found the maxims annoying and tried to move away from them and changed to procedure for the Vol Walk immediately upon his arrival.
Dooley has spent time this summer teaching players the value of the Volunteer traditions, reviewing the maxims, and returned the Vol Walk to it's former procedure. While many fans are happy that Fulmer doesn't roam the sidelines in Knoxville, the familiarity of Tennessee Traditions and the culture of "real" UT gameday will be a welcome change.
It's a safe bet that Kiffin favorite "Lil' Wayne" won't be heard on the pregame loudspeakers this year.
This time last year Tauren Poole was watching top freshman recruit Bryce Brown come off the bench to replace NFL draft pick Monterio Hardesty. Poole was the odd man out even though, by many accounts, he had a better summer camp than Brown.
This year Poole is the starter with something to prove. If the Vols get their passing game going early we may not see much of Poole before the second string comes in on Saturday. When Poole is in the game look for him to run like a man with a purpose and take advantage of a weak Skyhawk defense.
If Poole can put together the kind of year that Hardesty had last year with a less experienced offensive line the Vols could ride him all the way to bowl season.
Vols Defensive Line
Much of the conversation in the offseason has centered around the Vols defensive line.
Derek Dooley announced this week that UT's deeper defensive ends, including Gerald WIlliams, will rotate in and out at the defensive tackle spot because none of the DTs on the roster were able to separate themselves as starters.
The rotating defensive ends will give the Vols a significant speed advantage up front against large offensive linemen, but also comes with a disadvantage in size.
If the defensive line struggles against UT-Martin the Tennessee coaches may need a new plan.
Vols Special Teams
Tennessee's Special Teams have struggled mightily the last two seasons.
Despite bringing in the top place kicker and punter in this year's signing class Vol coaches are sticking with veterans Daniel Lincoln and Chad Cummingham as kicker and punter respectively. To be fair Lincoln had a fabulous freshman years before struggling with injuries.
If Lincoln misses any field goals on Saturday the boo-birds at Neyland could come out, shaken by their memory of the missed opportunity to beat Alabama on a blocked kick last year.
Fans will also keep an eye on the Vols' ability to cover kickoffs. The last few years Tennessee has been a source of many highlight reels for even the most mediocre return men.
Derek Dooley has emphasized Special Teams with the media and is a former Special Teams coach himself. Tennessee faithful are used to coaches who play lip service to this part of the game with little follow through.
Fans should hope Dooley's background means he is a man of his word.
Last season, even after the Vols finished 7-6, fans believed that Lane Kiffin's staff had them on a fast track back to a BCS bowl only to be scorned when he left them for USC.
Their faith in Kiffin came from watching the Vols play with discipline and poise against the toughest opponents, including Alabama, and not letting up against lesser opponents like Western Kentucky.
If Tennessee fans see a disciplined team that plays within Robert Neyland's maxims against an overmatched UT- Martin on Saturday, there will be reason to hope that those future championship dreams may return to Knoxville again by season's end.
(Johnny Lewis is a Tennessee football Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. For more Vols coverage, follow him on Twitter @kyvolunteer and read his other articles at www.kentuckyvols.com)