The 10 Most Important Players For A Tennessee SEC Title Run

Brian HoodAnalyst IAugust 14, 2008

With the SEC in the prime of its storied existence, Tennessee’s football team has its work cut out for them this year.  The Volunteers face a gauntlet of games against their SEC East counterparts.  Throw in arch nemesis Alabama, ever improving Mississippi St. and a trip to Auburn on the conference slate and an SEC Championship run seems daunting.  An up and down season last year saw the Vols finish strong and they found themselves in the conference championship game.  Integral players like Erik Ainge and Jerod Mayo that led to the championship appearance last year have since moved on to the NFL.  This year’s team needs certain players to step up if the Vols want another chance at the SEC crown.  I give you my thoughts on which players are the most pivotal for this team to reach its goal. 

QB Jonathan Crompton
-The much heralded junior was one of the top high school quarterbacks coming out of North Carolina.  An obvious choice here as the signal caller has waited his turn behind the very productive Erik Ainge and is now ready to put his stamp on the Tennessee program.  With just a minimum amount of playing time under his belt, he has shown he has the tools and toughness to play the position.  With new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson now a part of the team, Crompton gets the first shot at running his much talked about west coast/spread attack.

WR Gerald Jones
-The second year receiver is the guy Tennessee is counting on to provide the big play ability the Vols have been looking for.  The receiving corps is deep and full of experience but there is a shortage of game breakers in the bunch.  Last year he showed a glimpse of his play-making ability lining up at wide receiver as well behind center.  This multidimensional talent can create nightmares for opposing defenses with his various skills.  Expect Jones to be the centerpiece of Clawson’s offensive style of getting the ball to his play-makers and letting them work in open space.  Tennessee needs a player to challenge the speedy defenses he will face in the SEC and this may just be the guy.

P Chad Cunningham
-With the absence of All-SEC punter Dustin Colquitt for the first five games of the season because of suspension,  Cunningham will be thrust into the spotlight with early, important games on the schedule.  The combination of his very little experience and the hostile environments in front of him including at UCLA the first game and Florida and Auburn just a few weeks later give the young punter a real test.  How he handles the pressure could have an impact on the outcome of these first few games.

S Eric Berry
-Last year’s Freshman All-American safety needs to continue his assault against the running backs and wide receivers in the SEC.  The Georgia native has both excellent cover skills and tackling skills to be one of the all time great Tennessee players.  Even as a sophomore, the Vols need him to not only lead by his play but to step up and be the vocal leader of the defense.  A weak defense last year by Tennessee’s standards, Berry is the guy who could turn it around and make the players around him better. 

LB Ellix Wilson
-With the departure of 1st round draft pick Jerod Mayo, Tennessee will try to replace their middle linebacker with senior Ellix Wilson.  Small for his position, Wilson makes up for his size with his tenacity and technique.  All indications point to Wilson filling in admirably at the center of the defense but will the bright lights of the SEC affect him?

TE Brandon Warren
-The incoming transfer from Florida St. has yet to be cleared by the NCAA to play this year but if he becomes eligible he will be a massive weapon for Jonathan Crompton.  The Freshman All-American possesses dynamic receiving skills and is extremely fast for a tight end.  Tight ends Luke Cottam and Chris Brown have graduated and the other tight end on the roster, Jeff Cottam, continues to be hampered by injury and off season surgery so Warren would be a welcome addition.  If first year starter Jonathan Crompton finds himself in trouble, Warren could be the all important safety net underneath.

Complete Defensive Line
-This unit underachieved last year.  The biggest problem for the defense was its inability to get pressure on the quarterback and Tennessee’s pass rush has got to get better .  New defensive end starters Wes Brown and Robert Ayers hope to provide more pursuit with Ben Martin and Chris Walker looking to assist on passing situations. The defensive tackles are pivotal in that they must stay healthy as there is limited depth behind them.  The most critical unit on the team heading into the season needs to hold their own against the big boys of the SEC.

RB Arian Foster
-The multi-dimensional running back looks to lead the offense this year.  His ability to run and catch makes him invaluable to the Tennessee attack.  This versatility gives him the ability to play every down and make the defense account for him on every snap.  The senior is backed up by oft-injured Montario Hardesty and a bevy of young backs so Foster’s health is very important as well.
OG Anthony Parker
-One of the aspects of the new offensive coordinator’s system is that the offensive lineman will switch sides of the line and the guards pull a whole lot more than they were used to.  This preseason All-SEC offensive guard must lead the line and make the transition look seamless.

KR/PR Dennis Rogan

-With more and more parity in college football, games are being decided and completely changed by huge momentum shifting special teams play.  What’s becoming common is teams are employing the quick little scat back to break open a return and break open a game.  Just in the SEC alone you have returners like LSU’s Trindon Holliday, Florida’s Brandon James and Javier Arenas of Alabama changing the game with one run.  In his first year, the slight Rogan showed he has the kind of ability to provide big gains in the return game.