Who really has the most to gain? Incoming freshmen can sit back and ride the good ship redshirt or under-experienced, while sophomores are looking for a permanent job. The juniors are looking to keep what they have or maybe even de-throne a senior to upgrade their draft status. Both sides of the ball have an assortment of gridiron warriors who need a good season to cement their legacy or put them over the top once the college show is over.
But, there are always a couple of young shining faces who want to please everybody. These 10 players have a lot riding on their respective performance.
Let's the get the obvious out of the way.
With rumors of the Outland Trophy, Bronco Nagurski and now the Lombardi award awaiting, Jackson will have the opportunity to become one of Tennessee's greatest defensive linemen since Reggie White and Albert Haynseworth, and he will have achieved this status with one tremendous season.
He has the talent, but so do the some 180 other athletes competing for all those awards. Still, a great season and just finishing near the top of the pack could put him in position for a huge draft day. He simply has more to lose than most.
Withe arrival of freshman stud Maurice Couch DT, Daniel Hood has the most to gain, if not the most to lose. He has already won the job, and with the impending task of summer camp, it is vital to stake his claim now.
His spring performance and swift improvements won him big stars with Derek Dooley, but as I said, there are others that are nipping at his heels. A big summer showing will lock him down for the season, and a great fall will put him in position to take over where Malik Jackson leaves off. This is a crucial moment for Hood to step up.
By all rights, Mychal Rivera should have enough talent to keep the pole. That being said, Brendan Downs has the potential to be better. Why? According to his level of talent, he has better hands, reach and altitude. Yes, we all are aware he isn't a bona fide starter, but if OC Jim Chaney utilizes duel TEs like he has threatened to do for the last year, he could find himself getting more passes from Bray providing he proves just how good his hands are. A good showing against Montana and Cincinnati could win him a start against the Gators.
Say what you will about his playing ability, but Bray has every tool available to him to be one of the Vols' greatest QBs in the history of the school.
A win this season against any of the SEC powerhouses like Bama, Florida or LSU, and he will set himself up for future success. This season is by no means a guarantee, but a winning season with a "WIN" against any of the teams mentioned will make Bray a starter as long as he wears orange.
All Prentiss Waggner wants to do is escape—escape the shadow of Eric Berry, that is. That, and Janzen Jackson's of course.
Like Malik, Jackson Waggner is also on the Bronco Nagurski watch list, and to be honest, he has a better chance of winning than most. Why? Simply because he is better at what he does than most. Since Eric Berry, he has really been the go-to-guy because Janzen Jackson was so feared due to him being Berry's protege. It won't really matter if Waggner wins any awards or breaks any records because of his team effort. Standing tall this season will substantiate a first round draft.
He's gone. No he isn't! Yes, he is. No, he is back!
That he is back is the most important thing for the Vol defense. If he even contributes to a successful season, it will be a vast accomplishment considering he is supposed to be way behind the rest of the team in skill building and conditioning. The only person that knows where Jackson is capable is Jackson. He was supposed to be the reincarnation of Berry, but who is really able to be another Berry? Waggner?
Jackson will have to come out swinging and establish himself early, or he may find that a younger man could take his job and his future as a starter. Another five interceptions this season would settle everyone down.
If Jackson doesn't start strong Pat Martin or Izuaea, Lanier could step up early, and that could be the end of JJ's career.
If Derek Dooley can find it in the goodness of his heart and the university's, Austin Johnson has a chance to step up and fill some every big Reveiz shoes.
Last season, Nick Reveiz led the defense in well...leadership, not to mention tackles. Like so many Vols before him that found an easy way to alcohol-stimulated team violations, he could overcome those challenges and be something more.
But as it is, there are plenty of guys waiting for an opportunity to bleed orange. Reveiz, as good as he was on the field, tried like Johnson to fill any role possible, but the NFL is only interested in results and a proven career/record. Nothing short of tremendous will make him look feasible.
Incoming LBs recruits Christian Harris, A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt would definitely be more than happy to not violate team rules and get a chance inside Neyland.
Right now, when you think of WRs at Tennessee, the first name you think of is Justin Hunter. Hunter is the halo target that Bray salivates over whenever he looks down field.
Rogers is just as capable, but he has yet to prove any real superb talent...but he is young. If Rogers can't come down with every single reception that comes his way, De'Anthony Arnett will be waiting to step in. So maybe this is a loss more than gain. Either way, many are expecting Rogers to compete with Hunter for receptions.
The fact that Dooley is recruiting receivers so heavily should light a fire. For now, Rogers has the chance to do something really big and prove Nash Nance wasn't the reason he caught all of those high school receptions.
If you know Tennessee runners there isn't much to explain. If you don't know, let me explain briefly.
Poole waited in the shadows of Lane Kiffin TB recruits David Oku and Bryce Brown. They were supposed to be the next Reggie Bush singularly, but alas, that did not come to pass. So Tauren Poole sat in the shadows and waited for Derek Dooley.
Last season was successful. After all, not every RB in the SEC rushes for 1,000 yards, but it was a little too intermittent, as those high rushing performances would have been welcomed against Florida, UAB, Georgia, S. Carolina, Kentucky and N.Carolina.
Now that the line is improved and Bray remains the ball-handler, it should be an easier ride. Easy to say, I know. But, if he can achieve the same performance as last season, he should break a record or two. If he doesn't break out by Florida, the depth chart will swallow him.
Great centers aren't made every day. If you don't start snapping ball by the eighth grade, you most likely won't see very many offers from decent schools.
Forget his snapping style. What matters is he has the job right now, and despite his backyard snap, he still competed against every team worth playing in the SEC. Now, you have an experienced man in Alex Bullard who is dying for the opportunity to prove what he learned at Notre Dame.
Harry Hiestand is the x-factor here. If Hiestand has Stone up to speed with the improved snapping style by kick off, he will never surrender the job. However, a few juggled snaps will bench him quickly.
If Stone can stay consistent through Bama, he will be All-SEC. If he doesn't, Alex Bullard will show him how the Irish do it.