Where were the Vols the strongest and where were they the weakest coming out of the spring? Today, we’ll take a look.
Strongest position: Receivers/tight ends
Key returnees: Senior receiver Gerald Jones (46 catches, 680 yards, four touchdowns), senior receiver Denarius Moore (40 catches, 540 yards, seven touchdowns), senior tight end Luke Stocker (29 catches, 389 yards, five touchdowns), sophomore receiver Marsalis Teague (13 catches, 147 yards, two touchdowns)
Key departures: Receiver Quintin Hancock (27 catches, 298 yards, two touchdowns), receiver Nu’Keese Richardson (eight catches, 102 yards, one touchdown)
The skinny: Even though the Vols will be starting a quarterback who’s never thrown a pass in an SEC game, they return a collection of pass catchers who’ve played a lot of quality football in this league. Jones and Moore combined for 11 touchdown catches last season. Jones is at his best after the catch, and Moore is the Vols’ best deep threat. Both players have had their issues with injuries, but should be healthy to start next season. Look for the Vols to get more out Teague in 2010, too. He started quickly a year ago, but sort of disappeared. That’s not uncommon for a true freshman. Whoever emerges at quarterback, Matt Simms or Tyler Bray, will want to keep tabs on where Stocker is, especially on key downs. He runs good routes, knows how to get open and is one of the better all-around tight ends in the league. There could be some more help on the way, too, when true freshman Da’Rick Rogers arrives later this summer. He’s a big receiver with speed and great leaping ability and should work his way into the rotation right away.
Weakest position: Offensive line
Key returnees: Senior guard Jarrod Shaw, sophomore tackle Dallas Thomas
Key departures: Tackle Chris Scott, tackle Aaron Douglas, guard Jacques McClendon, guard Cory Sullins, center Cody Sullins
The skinny: There was some promise shown in the spring by several of the Vols’ younger offensive linemen, including true freshman tackle Ja’Wuan James and redshirt freshman guard JerQuari Schofield. Both are penciled in as starters going into the fall. First-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is excited about his young talent up front. He just wishes he didn’t have to play so many young guys so soon. James will be the starter at right tackle, while sophomore Dallas Thomas will step in at left tackle. Douglas probably would have shifted over from right tackle to left tackle following a Freshman All-America season a year ago, but left the program in the spring and is transferring to a junior college. Shaw is the only guy up front with any meaningful experience, and all of his starts came at the beginning of last season. Incoming true freshman James Stone will also compete for immediate playing time once he arrives. Down the road, this has a chance to be a very good group. But it’s also a group that will pay the price next season that comes with being so inexperienced in the offensive line in this league.