First off, I would like to thank the dead period of summer sports. If it were not for professional baseball's absolute dominance of non-interesting sporting news, Lane Kiffin's actions would not have been so publicized.
Hence, the offseason drama in the SEC would not be as entertaining.
The Volunteers go into the season with more questions than answers. However, expectations remain on an elevated level. Coach Kiffin has managed to stir the fan base, recruit on a high level, and throw the occasional jab at the adversary. I will break down what is expected from the Kiffin-era Volunteer squad for the 2009 season.
Of the questions for this squad, Eric Berry and Rico McCoy must remain absent from the selection. Both are proven returning starters on the defensive side of the ball and will be relied heavily upon for support and leadership. Expect for both to have All-SEC type years, with Eric Berry to break the all-time NCAA record for interception return yards.
The defensive line has no rock to lean against. However, coming out of spring practice, defensive ends Chris Walker and Ben Martin have shown signs of having that twitch for the quarterback.
Both are more blitz focused ends, with great speed. The interior defensive line is the weakest link on the defense, as it was last year. If incoming freshman Montori Hughes is as valid as the hype has indicated, he may be able to step in at a DT position and make some waves.
Keep in mind he is an incoming freshman, so what can you expect? Coach Orgeron will have his work cut out for him.
The secondary positions will be a battle. I believe the two starters on the corners will be Brent Vinson and Janzen Jackson, with Dennis Rogan vying for his right, and the other safety position to be filled by incoming freshman Darren Myles.
All are great athletes, with little to no game experience on a collegiate level. Monte Kiffin has the athleticism to play with in the secondary, and this group is expected to be one of the most underestimated squads in the SEC.
I wouldn't be surprised if the secondary becomes a strength at the mid season point, which would allow for the defensive line to loosen up and make more plays.
The linebacker corps is probably the least talked about. Outside of Rico McCoy, it's game time. The other two positions are up for grabs. Chris Donald, redshirt Sophomore is expected to step up and plant himself within one of those positions; however, incoming recruits Marlon Walls and Jerod Askew should put up a good battle for the remaining slot.
Lance Thompson, recent Alabama linebacker coach/recruiter, will be given a decent amount of tools to work with. The lack of experience doesn't translate into a lack of athletic ability. The way this group plays out should be exciting to watch.
On the offensive side of the ball there is extremely little to be optimistic about, outside of the signing of touted RB recruit Bryce Brown. Of course this could be attributed to the offense that was run last year.
The players had a hard time visualizing the overall grasp of the system. With Kiffin entering the picture and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, the system will be less complex and easier to understand.
Offensive line stands as one of the biggest issues. Even worse the only proven starter, center Josh McNeil, found himself battling for his right during spring with Cody Sullins. The two guard position are solid with Vladamir Richard and Jacques McClendon, both saw playing time last year.
One of the tackle spots is good with Chris Scott and the other is up for grabs. The way this group pans out will ultimately determine the success and/or failure of the offense. It will probably be average, but do not look for this group to set records or push the line of scrimmage every play.
The backfield will be entertaining. This is a position of strength, even with the departure of running back Lennon Creer. Senior tailback Montario Hardesty had his best spring; however, it will be interesting to see how Bryce Brown will be implemented into the system. Running back Coach Eddie Gran should have a field day with what he has to work with.
Wide receivers and quarterbacks will be assessed in the same sentence. Show me! Last year was absolutely devastating and an embarrassment. Jim Chaney and Coach Kiffin have so far kept everything simple and I fully intend on things staying that way.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton is a competitor and I do believe he is more comfortable under Coach Kiffin and Chaney than under previous QB coaches/coordinators. Receiver Gerald Jones is the only wide receiver worth mentioning.
Senior receiver Austin Rogers has been around, but he just does not have the break away ability and is not necessarily the most reliable possession receiver. On a side note, I would love to see incoming wide receiving recruit Nu'Kesee Richardson get in the Florida game and see success.
Overall Tennessee and Coach Kiffin have their hands full, even more so with the offseason happenings between coaches. The fans, however, will be sympathetic simply because Kiffin has brought life back into the program.
Coach Kiffin must beat at least two of the following: Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, and long shot Florida, to at least regain some face value. I foresee an 8-4 season for 2009, for the up-and-coming Tennessee Volunteers.