Tennessee spring wrap

2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 4; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Tauren Poole, WR Gerald Jones, WR Denarius Moore, TE Luke Stocker, DE Chris Walker, DT Montori Hughes, LB Nick Reveiz, S Janzen Jackson

Key losses

QB Jonathan Crompton, RB Montario Hardesty, OT Chris Scott, OT Aaron Douglas, DT Dan Williams, LB Rico McCoy, CB Dennis Rogan, S Eric Berry

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Montario Hardesty (1,345 yards)

Passing: Jonathan Crompton (2,800 yards)

Receiving: Gerald Jones* (680 yards)

Tackles: Rico McCoy (119)

Sacks: Chris Walker* (6)

Interceptions: Eric Berry, Wes Brown and Chris Walker* (2)

Spring answers

1. Poole of talent: Junior running back Tauren Poole proved this spring what most people on the team already knew (with the exception of former coach Lane Kiffin), and that is that he has what it takes to be a featured running back in this league. He broke a long run in just about every scrimmage, rarely goes down on the first hit and is hungry to show what he can do in the fall.

2. Dooley’s way: First-year coach Derek Dooley spent much of the spring establishing the way it was going to be under his regime. It’s the second straight spring the Vols have undergone a transition to a new coach. Last spring, it was Kiffin marking his turf. One of the priorities for Dooley and Co. this spring was finding out who could do what and who couldn’t do what for a Tennessee team that will be hurting for depth in 2010.

3. Replenishing the secondary: Sophomore safeties Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles Jr. both had big springs and will be the answer back there for the next two years. Answers for players the caliber of Eric Berry aren’t easy to come by, which is why it was so pleasing for the Vols to see Jackson and Myles make the number of plays they did. Now they both need to prove they can behave themselves off the field. Also keep an eye on junior Art Evans, who has the potential to be a very good shutdown cornerback in this league and comes highly endorsed by Berry.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line experience: Dooley sheds the best perspective on where the Vols are offensively when he asks if there’s ever been a team faced with having to replace all five starters on the offensive line, its top running back and its quarterback. The Vols will likely start two freshmen up front, Ja’Wuan James at tackle and JerQuari Schofield at guard, and another one, James Stone, could end up figuring into the rotation when he gets on campus. This is a unit that has some young talent, but will almost certainly struggle this first season.

2. Settling on a quarterback: Senior Nick Stephens left the program this spring after being demoted, leaving junior college newcomer Matt Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray to battle it out for the job. Simms, the younger brother of Chris Simms, is well-liked by his teammates and worked hard to establish himself this spring, but Bray may have a bigger upside. An extremely thin player, Bray looked good in the Vols’ Orange and White spring game and will almost certainly have to play some next season.

3. Kicking game issues: The Vols had so many holes to fill that the kicking game sort of got lost in the shuffle. But with so much inexperience on offense and defense, they have to be able to hold their own on special teams next season, or it could really get ugly. Given how shaky the kicking and punting looked this spring, incoming freshman Michael Palardy may end up doing all of the kicking in the fall. Palardy doesn’t arrive until this summer, but was rated as one of the top kicker prospects in the country.