A look at why Derek Dooley’s second season at Tennessee could be one to remember and why it could be one to forget:
Biggest reason for hope: Budding young stars on offense
Just about everywhere you look on Tennessee’s offense, there are promising second-year players who played a lot of football last season as freshmen, and in most cases, played at a high level. Quarterback Tyler Bray had a brutal spring game, but showed how talented he was a year ago in throwing 16 touchdown passes in his five starts to close the season. The Vols really have a chance to be special up front offensively. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James, right guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone started as true freshmen last season, and heralded signee Marcus Jackson enrolled early and worked all spring as the starting left guard. The sophomore receiving tandem of Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers also appears poised for a big season. Hunter caught seven touchdown passes as a true freshman, and Rogers was perhaps the Vols’ most dynamic player on the field this spring.
Biggest reason for concern: Too many unknowns and new faces on defense
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox won’t have a true picture of what his defense will look like until August when all the newcomers get on the field. Junior college tackle Maurice Couch and junior college defensive backs Byron Moore and Izauea Lanier could be immediate starters, and the Vols won’t know until this summer if star safety Janzen Jackson will rejoin the team after withdrawing from school this semester to sort out personal issues. They’re extremely thin at defensive tackle, even though USC transfer Malik Jackson slid inside from end last season and performed very well. Tennessee will also need a freshman or two to help at linebacker where there isn’t much returning in the way of depth. With so many new faces, there’s sure to be some serious growing pains. Plus, it’s always a crapshoot to count on so many junior college players and freshmen. It may be that the Vols are forced to win a lot of shootouts next season where they’re always having to outscore people, and that's a scary proposition in this league.