Tennessee Volunteers Football: 5 Players Who Need to Step Their Game Up for 2011

Zack Vance@@crookskirbContributor IIJuly 20, 2011

Tennessee Volunteers Football: 5 Players Who Need to Step Their Game Up for 2011

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    Unfortunately, Tennessee Volunteer football has not been living up to expectations for quite some time now. Distractions keep stemming from on and off the field incidents, and close SEC losses seem to spoil every season. 

    With many key offensive and defensive starters returning this season, Derek Dooley and staff will need take Volunteer football to another level and prove that they can once again be an SEC contender.

    Five players will need to show they have what it takes to carry the Vols' Nation back on top.   

No. 5—Malik Jackson, DE

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    A former Trojan his freshman and sophomore year, Malik Jackson is becoming a threat for the Volunteers defense.

    Jackson, who transferred to Tennessee last year, recorded a team-high five sacks to go along with 11 tackles for a loss. He started all 13 games for Tennessee and made a difference when teams would try to run the ball on the outside.

    Jackson will need to improve on getting more tackles this upcoming year. Last season, he finished sixth on the team with 48 tackles.  

No. 4—Justin Hunter, WR

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    A sophomore from Virginia Beach, Justin Hunter will have a lot on his shoulders this coming season with the Vols losing their two leading receivers from last year, Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones.

    Tyler Bray will depend on the 6'4" wide receiver to be one of his main targets and hope that maybe his height will give him an advantage going up against opponent's defensive backs.

    Hunter will need to show maturity this season as well as leadership skills.

No. 3—Mychal Rivera, TE

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    Junior tight end Mychal Rivera showed he could be clutch last year when he caught a critical 26-yard pass on third-and-13 to keep the Vols' fourth touchdown drive vs. Mississippi alive.

    Rivera will be entering his second season with Tennessee, and he should be a vital part of Tyler Bray's passing game.

    Last season, Rivera had only 11 receptions gaining 112 yards. This year should be seeing the ball thrown to him at least 5-6 times a game.

    Mychal Rivera will need to block well on the end, and he could impact whether Bray will live up to be a successful quarterback for the Volunteers.   

No. 2—Tauren Poole, RB

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    Any Vol fan should know that Tauren Poole will need another 1,000-yard season for Tennessee to be a .500 team.

    Poole, a senior out of Toccoa, Ga., tied the SEC with six 100-yard rushing games last season.

    The tailback needs to exhibit leadership on the offense side, while giving defenses a sense he could break a run away at any moment.

    Poole will need to remain healthy as he did last year, and have a quick start to give Bray time to synchronize with his new receivers. 

No. 1—Tyler Bray, QB

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    As any Volunteer should expect, Tyler Bray is the number-one player who will need to step up for Tennessee in the 2011 season.

    Bray will be the starting quarterback this season for the Vols, after last season he took over the last five games and won four of them.

    He finished the regular season 125-of-224 for 1,849 passing yards and 18 touchdowns, all UT freshman records.

    The Vols will need to put all of their focus on Bray, and make it one of the first seasons in a while that the Volunteers know they have a definite starter at quarterback week in and week out.

    Although Matt Simms may have had a little better completion percentage, Tyler Bray threw for about 400 more yards than Simms, and only played in nine of the 13 regular season games.

    If Tyler Bray comes out ready to lead by example and play hard, Tennessee may have a chance to steal the SEC East for the first time in four years.