2011 record: 5-7
2011 conference record: 1-7
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2
RB Tauren Poole, DT Malik Jackson, DE Ben Martin, LB Austin Johnson
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Tauren Poole (693 yards)
Passing: Tyler Bray* (1,983 yards)
Receiving: Da'Rick Rogers* (1,040 yards)
Tackles: Austin Johnson (81)
Sacks: Malik Jackson (2.5)
Interceptions: Austin Johnson (4)
1. Tyler Bray's leadership: No one has questioned Bray's arm as he can sling it with the best of them. But his heart has been questioned, and he knew it heading into spring. He never considered himself a real leader until this year, when he decided to take his job more seriously. Bray said players listened to him more in practice and respected him more as a person, not just a player. Bray can now be looked at as someone to rally around and look up to. He's finally learning how to be a real quarterback in this league.
2. Richardson's revival: Tennessee's offensive line took a lot of heat last season and for good reason. The Vols were last in the SEC and 116th nationally in rushing. The line needed to find a spark and rising sophomore Antonio Richardson might be just that. His potential has always impressed coaches and after playing on special teams last year, he came out of the spring as the starter at left tackle. Richardson is an extremely athletic and gifted player and the coaches feel confident that he can protect Bray's blind side.
3. Lathers' and Hunter's health: Linebacker Herman Lathers and wide receiver Justin Hunter did all the right things this spring. Lathers missed the 2011 season with an ankle injury, while Hunter missed most of the season after tearing his ACL in against Florida last September. While both still aren't 100 percent, the coaches feel confident that both will be by the fall. Hunter got some good work in this spring and even flew by some players in a scrimmage. Lathers' ankle progressed more and more and thinks he'll be right on track come fall practice.
1. Defensive comfort: Tennessee returns eight defensive starters, but it welcomed a brand new defensive coordinator in Sal Suneri, three other new coaches and a new defensive scheme. Sunseri would like to run more 3-4 this fall, but it'll take time for his players to adjust and Tennessee isn't sure if that comfort level is quite there yet. Tennessee players will also have to continuing adjusting to the new coaching faces they'll be working with this fall. It's important that this defense, which is still relatively young, get on the same page exiting camp.
2. Running the ball: Rising sophomore Marlin Lane showed nice improvement, but he finished the spring tied with Rajion Neal and Devrin Young at running back. So, the jury is still out on whether this team will be able to run the ball more consistently this season and Tennessee might have to look to its incoming freshmen for more help. While the running backs struggled last year, the offensive line was another reason for the Vols' shortcomings in the rushing department. There was a lot of movement up front and improvements need to start there before Tennessee can even think about handing the ball off more.
3. Defensive tackle: There's a lot of uncertainty and inexperience at tackle, and a lot of of players listed as co-starters on Tennessee's post-spring depth chart. Maurice Couch had an up-and-down 2011 season and now will be called to take on more responsibility now that Malik Jackson is gone. Daniel Hood, who was recovering from shoulder surgery this spring, Steven Fowlkes, Darrington Sentimore and Gregory Clark will all get chances in the middle. Also, keep an eye on incoming junior college transfer Daniel McCullers, who the coaches think can contribute immediately.