Tennessee Football 2011: 5 Volunteers Who Could Be All-Americans
Be excited. It's almost football time in Tennessee!
The Vols have a tough schedule next season, playing all three of the top contenders for the SEC West crown (Arkansas, Alabama and LSU) along with an improved SEC East.
But even with a brutal schedule like that, there's reason to believe that the Vols will reach the next level and stay in contention for the SEC East.
Here are five players that could help them along the way.
1. Justin Hunter
Justin Hunter had a phenomenal season last year, turning 43.8 percent of his catches into touchdowns.
Unfortunately, he only had 16 catches, so that limited him to 415 yards. Even so, an average of 25.94 yards per catch is something worth celebrating.
This year, expect Hunter to post way more catches and to eventually emerge as Tennessee's No. 1 receiver (with Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones gone, that distinction is wide open).
If Tyler Bray keeps putting up numbers like he did last year, whoever his favorite receiver is could turn into a consensus All-American pretty easily.
Hunter has already shown that he can do a lot with a little. This season we'll get to see what he does with a lot.
2. Janzen Jackson
Janzen Jackson leaving the Vols to deal with personal issues made the offseason a long one. Many assumed that the Kiffin recruit was gone for good, like so many others in his recruiting class, but Jackson proved his loyalty to Tennessee by returning to school recently.
He was missed for good reason, as he was probably the best defender on the field last year.
While Dooley has said that Jackson is not the definite starter, I don't see anyone else actually beating him out. Between Janzen and Malik, Tennessee fans should expect to hear the name Jackson called a lot this year.
Jackson was named to the preseason All-SEC Second team, but look for his stock to rise as the season moves along. Like his former teammate Eric Berry, he'll end the season with All-SEC honors and prove himself to be the best safety in the country and maybe be an All-American too.
3. Prentiss Waggner
Another great defensive back, Prentiss Waggner burst onto the scene last year, grabbing five interceptions and turning the first three into touchdowns.
He has already been put on the watch list for the 2011 Chuck Bednarik Award and the Jim Thorpe Award, and when a player is on the watch list for both the award given to college football's best defensive back and for college football's best defensive player, it's time to take notice.
While Waggner's place on the field may be a mystery right now with Janzen Jackson back on the team, Waggner will likely return to where he belongs at cornerback.
At 6'2" and 185 lbs, Waggner has the size to be a true shutdown corner this year, and with the quality wide receivers Tennessee will be facing (Alshon Jefferey, Greg Childs), he'll get plenty of opportunities to shine.
4. Tyler Bray
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
We all know the Tyler Bray story by now, but to a Vols fan, it never gets old. Bray was a gunslinger last year, putting up huge numbers in his five starts (1,537 yds, 14 TDs, seven INTs), breaking the freshman record for passing yards.
While he is knocked for mostly facing subpar competition, he looked just as sharp against one of the nation's best defenses in the Music City Bowl against North Carolina. He completed 27 of 45 for 312 yards, giving him a completion percentage of 60 (his highest as a starter).
He also threw four touchdowns and three interceptions (the last one coming in the second overtime).
Although the SEC quarterback of the moment is Aaron Murray, expect that to change once the season gets going.
Bray will come out this season a little more reserved, working on better accuracy and not just monster yardage, but he will continue leading the Vols to victory and prove himself to be the best quarterback in the SEC. He just might grab All-American honors along the way.
5. Malik Jackson
Who doesn't love this guy? Not only does he transfer to Tennessee from the newly crowned Most Hated School in Tennessee, he also changes positions from an end to a tackle since that's where he is needed.
Jackson is a team player if ever there was one. Oh yeah, he also led the team in sacks last year with five and posted 11 tackles for loss.
This year, Jackson will be more acclimated to playing at defensive tackle and will lead the team in sacks again. He will be the defense's leader in the trenches and a quarterback's nightmare in his NFL campaign.
Jackson is Tennessee's only preseason All-SEC player. This year, like teammate Prentiss Waggner, is on the watch list for both best player in his position (the Outland Trophy) and for best defensive player (the Bednarik Award).
Winning one of those wouldn't be a shocker and neither would nabbing honors on both the All-SEC and All-America teams.