When summer camp starts, it's the true beginning of last minute preparation. Derek Dooley will face a cornucopia of dilemmas as he figures out who to start and who to bench. And as usual, the Vols are never short of negative dilemmas. Transfers and injuries; is there ever an end to the Big Orange hardship? Or is youth the answer for it all?
But, the gang's all here...almost. So what is Derek Dooley's highest priority as the Volunteers battle dehydration two times a day? Evaluation.
Just like any project manager worth his weight, you start things and look at a big picture before you start making plans. Right now, there really isn't anything to do but sit back and watch, and make plans to make plans. Players are in shape—true enough—but they're just now shaking the dust off their their cleats. This may not seem like the ideal way, but trust me. If you run every player out on the field and start looking for the best player on the first day of practice, you are doomed.
Sorry for being so general, but in the grand scheme of things, that is exactly what is happening this very moment, whether it be agilty drills on the field or the coaches looking at film as they sip their morning coffee. One thing holds true no matter which coach you talk to. It's all much too early to make final judgements. Now is the time start evaluating and making sure the players get ready for the ever present punishment of heavy hitting.
The Vols will need to examine the players that were designated in the spring as transition players and injury-questionable. Daniel Hood, for example, was moved over from the offensive line to satisfy depth needs on the defensive line. Although he performed admirably in the spring, the coaches will begin to look for weaknesses. For the moment, he appears to be settling further into the tackle position and is appreciating his comfort levels. Lance Thompson will also make sure players like Ben Martin are fully recovered from their injuries. Martin hasn't played since tearing Achilles tendon last year.
Well, I stuck my foot in it this spring declaring that Toney Williams would take over the No. 2 spot currently occupied by Rajion Neal. Williams is no longer on the team, so that allows room for one man: freshman Marlin Lane. According to Dooley, Lane is just what the doctor ordered. The big chore is determining if he is ready for running in the SEC and if Rajion Neal is ready to give up his spot behind Tauren Poole.
Anybody that recognizes a power "T" knows that Justin Hunter and DaRick Rogers will in fact be the WR duo that Bray looks for on nearly any passing play. And if you were a good Vol fan and followed recruiting, you would also know that the Vols' best signee of the 2011 class was DeAnthony Arnett. Arnett was listed by Scout as No. 8, and by Rivals as the No.12 WR nationally.
OC Jim Chaney will need to make sure Arnett gets plenty of reps throughout the summer. QB Tyler Bray will be much more dangerous with a third stellar receiver; SEC defenses already know he's going to throw to Rogers and Hunter. It's imperative that Arnett gets up to speed on the playbook and gets comfortable with Bray so that those same defenses have to adjust their secondary further.
Or will Jim Chaney sink him behind Vincent Dallas?
Last season, RB Tauren Poole often seemed hesitant when he shot the gap and ran for daylight. Why? Well....he was never sure whether he had to run into traffic or open hole, and trust me, there is a difference. Often, runners want to build a quick stride that will carry them for 10 yards (that's what they're trained to do), and then there is the trick sprint where they like to build velocity off of a blocker. Last season, he could have done better had the blocking situation been more clear.
This season, he has Dallas Thomas and JaWaun James to establish a better running game. What's more is Mychal Rivera is a decent blocker, and that could spell a better return on wheel plays. All around, the blocking is better and the front is solid, but Thomas and James will need to be work horses.
Special teams coach Eric Russel has to make special teams a strength. In short, he has to make special teams...well...special. Last season, the Vols returned punts for a total of 79 yards to opponents 220. Kickoffs were still marginally below the SEC average for a total of 1,133 yards to the opponent's 1,158. Let's not even get into the the contagious "dropsies" that nearly every punt returner suffered, or the lack of coverage allowing opposing returners to simply skate past tacklers with the greatest of ease. Games can be lost by a single point, and allowing an opposing returner to run back for 79 yards is simply inexcusable.
Herman Lathers, Greg King, Raiques Crump, John Probst, Austin Johnson, Daryl Vereen, Christian Harris, AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt. It's all a collective question that DC Justin Wilcox will need to ask LB coach Peter Sirmon on a daily basis. Who's still injured, who's progressing, who's the leader and who do you trust to lead the defense where there is an absence of leaders?
Get starters ready on a game-to-game basis and hope they can carry the day.
Peter Sirmon is the key. If he stays humble and keeps preaching the basics, then the day may indeed be carried.
Cut and dry: QB Tyler Bray needs to read defensive schemes better. Again, interceptions kill, and so do fumbles and sacks. If OC Jim Chaney can keep bray busy in the film room, there should be a drastic improvement, but if he doesn't apply the new reads he develops from those countless hours of film, it will still be another 10 interceptions and minus-103 yards rushing doubled.
Passing lanes are still tight. It won't matter if Jerry Rice clones were catching; you still need to interpret how the defense interprets you, or intercepts...same thing.
OK, you move Malik Jackson over from DE and make him a DT that is a force to be reckoned with. Done. Now that that's been accomplished, you repeat the process and start over from scratch. Never mind the fact that Marlon Walls was a projected "co-starter" beside DE Willie Bohannon. Any way you put it, we're back to that "year one" mentality.
Now, this is supposed to be temporary while Malik Jackson nurses a "sprained knee" that is only supposed to take two weeks to heal. OK, I'm sorry; I forgot there was magic medicine inside Neyland Stadium. Who on God's green earth heals a knee injury in two weeks and returns to full contact?
DL coach Lance Thompson has a short long road to make a sophomore comparable so that the gap left by Jackson gets filled. Work fast, Coach T, so in case that two week sprain lasts up to Montana, or Cinnci, or Florida or.... By the way, is Wall's Achilles fully healed? 100 percent, really? At least he is familiar with the position
Video reference 5:28