Tennessee Vols Spring Defections Destroying Team Depth

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IApril 10, 2010

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 22:  Quarterback Nick Stephens #17 of the Tennessee Volunteers warms up before the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 22, 2008 in Nashville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If you ever wanted to know what a "worst-case scenario" looks like, take a gander at the Tennessee Vols Football program the last three years.

Beginning with the inexplicable loss to a terrible UCLA team in September '08, followed by Phillip Fulmer's firing later that season, and culminating with Fulmer's replacement bolting for greener pastures one year into his Tennessee tenure, it has been one disaster after another for the Tennessee Vols.

Now, Lane Kiffin's replacement is facing a much tougher challenge than Kiffin faced in his only season on the Hill.

Going into the '09 season, the now departed Kiffin pinpointed depth as a major issue facing the Vols. He even went as far to say that it would take at least three recruiting classes to get team depth to an acceptable level.

Do you want to know how important depth is? Just look at the top of the SEC. 

Alabama and Florida have depth coming out their ears. You would have to go three deep at most positions on those teams to find a weak spot.

The same goes for most nationally relevant teams.

For the Tennessee Vols, that kind of depth is a thing of the past. Just look at the issues Tennessee had last season.

  • There were two former walk-ons on the offensive line.
  • Even though QB Jonathan Crompton eventually turned the corner, the lack of quality depth behind him cost the Vols three early losses.
  • After losing two linebackers to torn knee ligaments, the Vols had to depend on a patchwork LB unit.
  • When Tennessee lost one of its top tacklers to an off-field incident, Dexter McCluster put up nearly 300 yards on the Vols.

Obviously, depth was an issue for Tennessee in '09.

As the Vols finish up spring practice, even more depth issues have hit Kiffin's replacement.

Derek Dooley was already working with the same lack of quality depth that Kiffin had to deal with. Then the Vols top-ranked running back prospect of '09, who happened to be the presumed 2010 starter, decided he didn't want to be a part of the program.

As much as losing Bryce Brown hurt Tennessee's pride, at least he was playing a position where depth really isn't an issue for the Vols.

The shocker of the spring came when Tennessee's All-SEC sophomore offensive lineman, Aaron Douglas, decided to leave the program as well.

Douglas' departure was a killer because the offensive line is this season's biggest question mark—by a long shot.

On that offensive line the Vols will count on a true freshman (Ju'Wuan James), a redshirt freshman (JerQuari Schofield), a recently converted defensive lineman (Victor Thomas), and two career backups with three starts between them (Jarrod Shaw and Dallas Thomas) as a starting unit.

This team's second biggest question mark is quarterback.

So to complete the trifecta, fifth-year senior quarterback, Nick Stephens, decided this week that he was going to try playing Division II football rather than risk not starting at Tennessee in his final opportunity.

Stephens had a less than spectacular spring through seven practices, but it was his awful scrimmage one week ago that cost him the extra first-team snaps which true freshman Tyler Bray took over on Tuesday.

I felt all along that JuCo transfer Matt Simms would be the starter in the fall. But losing a fifth-year insurance plan behind Simms is a lot more damaging than one might think.

Bray was probably destined for a redshirt in 2010. The highly-touted quarterback from California weighs around 190-pounds and is nowhere close to ready to take the weekly beating he could face in the SEC with a patchwork offensive line blocking for him.

Now Simms appears to be the lucky one to take that beating.

If something, God forbid, happens to Simms, Tennessee has two true freshmen (Bray and Nash Nance) and another JuCo transfer (Nick Lamaison) behind him.

Suffice it to say, Derek Dooley's first season in Knoxville projects to be a rather forgettable one—especially if the "worst-case scenario" keeps getting worse.


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