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gjones2008-2009 was an eventful period for the University of Tennessee. Phillip Fulmer was ran off, and whether you blame it on UT's rich winning tradition, spoiled Orange alumni, or the UT brass, the fact is, he's gone. Stability turned to instability, a legendary and well respected legend was traded in for one of the youngest and most arrogant personalities in college football. And, after a 7-6 season, a year full of new expectations got on a plane for Southern California. Lane Kiffin left in a moments notice, and Knoxville was left with very few options. With no big names available to hire, UT turned to a man with and an old school philosophy and strong SEC ties, in Derek Dooley. Many debate whether the hire will be beneficial for the Vols on the field, and the off-field incidents since his hire are causing many to wonder,if he can provide the institutional control that UT needs. As far as returning UT to prominence in the SEC East, it is quite evident that success on the field will take a few years. With that said, let's look at the 2010 UT Vols...

At QB: Gone is Johnathan Crompton, and Sr. Nick Stephens left the team in the spring. Chris Sims and Taylor Bray remain, but neither QB has any SEC experience. Sims' dad is...you guessed it, Phil Simms. He is a Juco transfer, and threw for 2,000 yds last season at El Camino Community College. Bray on the other hand, was ranked among Athlon's top 15 high school QB's in 2009, and will make his mark in Knoxville before he leaves town. Both QB's have talent, but only one thing is worse than not having college football experience, and that's lacking SEC football experience. The lack of a proven RB, will hurt both of these 'green horns'.

At RB: Monterio Hardesty is gone, which means the Vols lose a 1,300 yd back. Bryce Brown wants out, and That leaves the Vols with 2 RB's who rarely see the field, who will now be called on regularly. Those two guys are Tauren Poole and David Oku. UT shocked everyone when they pulled away one of the nation's top 30 RB recruits in Rajion Neal. The talented true Freshman could add some speed to the UT backfield, considering neither Oku or Poole are speedsters. Veteran FB Kevin Cooper will lead the way for all these guys. Poole will finally get his shot, but Neal will steal the show.

At Wr: If there's one position on Offense that UT fans can breathe easy over, it's here. Sr. Luke Stocker returns, as by far the best TE in the SEC. So does play maker-WR/QB hybrid Gerald Jones and Denarious Moore. If you keep up with stats, you'd know that-that was UT's top 3 leading receivers in 2009. Moore and Jones hauled in 500+ yards, and Stocker finished just shy of 400. 3 other young Vols are making strides, including 5 star Da'Rick Rogers, Matt Milton, and Zach Rogers. This bunch could be primed for dominance, but the lack of experience at QB, could hinder their overall output.

On the OL: All young bloods will man the O Line this year, where the Vols lack a returning starter. As of now, the starting line will consist of Sr. Jarrod Shaw, So. Dallas Thomas, and Freshmen Ja'Wuan James and JerQuari Schofield, and Jr. Cody Pope. A lack of QB and RB experience, and an inexperienced Line to block for them...think you can see where this is going.

On the DL: The Vols have 2 good DE's in Ben Martin and Chris Walker. Both Ends have a knack for finding their way into the Offensive backfield and forcing turnovers. UT is 2 deep at the position, backed up by Willie Bohanon and Gerald Williams. The Vols are not as deep when it comes to interior linemen, but Montori Hughes and Marlon Wall are talented. This core should be able to pressure opposing QB's, and slow down the opposing running game. Martin and Walker have speed around the outside that you have to have in the SEC.

At LB: Gone is Rico McCoy, but the Vols have a stall of LB's. Nick Reveiz will more than likely take the MLB spot, and surrounding him will be Savion Frazier and LaMarcus Thompson. All 3 are Seniors, but So. Herman Lathers will make his argument for getting the starting nod, because he is the leading returning tackler, and has more speed than the other LB's. Austin Johnson is another player that will only add to the competition, before the season kicks off.

At DB: Eric Berry is gone, which is hard to believe. But, even in his absence UT's secondary should be the anchor of the D. So. Janzen Jackson has a great chance to follow in Berry's foot steps. Jackson will be aided by FS Darren Myles, solidifying the deep positions. At Corner, healthy competition will take place all summer, between Art Evans, Eric Gordon, Naz Oliver, and Anthony Anderson. Jackson and Evans are the only 2 returning starters from 2009, but no matter who Dooley fields, this guys can hold their own.

Special Teams: P Chad Cunningham and PK Daniel Lincoln, are both Seniors, and will more than likely be the guy at their positions. Pushing both for their jobs, will be Fr. Michael Palardy, who is rated as the #1 kicker in the country. Kick off returns will be handled by David Oku and Denarious Moore, while Jenzan Jackson will handle punts. This is one area that Dooley is passionate about and commits himself to. Keep in mind, Dooley brought in Texas Tech's Eric Russell to handle the special teams. Talented players and good coaches, usually equal success.

Schedule: UT Martin, Oregon, UF, UAB, @ LSU, @ UGA, Bama, @ USC, @ Memphis, Ole Miss, @ Vandy, UK

My Thoughts: This team has proven playmakers at every position, except at QB, RB, and on the OL. You can stop people all day on defense, but if you can't score, then it doesn't matter. If this were a situation where all the Vol QB's had to do was hand it off and manage the game, then I'd see this team having a 7+ win season, but that's not the case. It's also sad that a good group of WR's will go to waste. Gerald Jones will have his moments because of his versatility, but unless Rajion Neal emerges at RB this season, UT will struggle. UT's defense will keep them in almost every game, but staying on the field will wear them down. I can see their special teams play keeping games even closer, and maybe swinging a game in their favor. I just can't get past all of UT's inexperience, schedule, lack of proven players, and the off-field issues.

My Prediction: 4-8 or 5-7. This is one SEC schedule that I don't have to think twice about. W's-UTM, UAB, @ Memphis, and @ Vandy. L's-Oregon, UF, @ LSU, @ UGA, Bama, @ USC, Ole Miss. The one swing game this year for UT, is the final game of the year vs UK. After the final whistle on Nov. 27, I have a feeling that Fulmer's exit will feel like it was yesterday, and UT will be faced with the long road ahead to recovery, realizing that 2 years ago, they ran off a coach who finished his career at 152-52 overall. I know it may be odd to bring up Fulmer as much as I have today, but some schools just get too greedy. When you run off a coach who took you to the SEC Championship the year before you canned him, you deserve Kiffin, and whatever else follows.

What are your predictions for UT in 2010?

MSU practiced Tuesday, working mainly on what could be considered 'specialty' situations that focused on red zone and goal line work. Mullen and the Bulldogs went on to spend the afternoon evaluating the morning session. Here's some notes:

  • Mullen noticed that the team seemed to be moving slow, but that's due to coming off their first two-a-day set of practices on Monday. Even though the Dawgs started slow, Mullen was pleased with the finish.
  • "When we started it was a little bit slow at the beginning, and you get a little bit worried when the energy is not high right at the beginning. But it turned and the energy, I loved how we finished."
  • Apparently the practice pushed the make or break aspects of red zone and goal line situations, demanding the players to go full speed.
  • All 3 MSU QB's were mix and matched with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings, mainly so Mullen could gauge each QB's leadership skills.
  • “We’re moving guys around. One of the things we’re doing is letting the quarterbacks play with each huddle and see how they respond. We let Dylan Favre go with the 1s some, we put Chris Relf with the 3s, and jumbled them all around into the different huddles to see how they responded, how Chris can be a leader with that group. We had Tyler Russell with the 1s and Favre with the 2s, and just moving everybody all around the place. So I think that went pretty well. And the guys picked it up from yesterday and there was some good leadership from the quarterback position.”
  • Mullen on Relf: "He’s coming along. He’s not real vocal leader, but he is really come a long way. The guys on the team believe in him, and he’s a hard worker. He’s not your rah-rah guy but he does do a good job of leading by example."
  • On the competition: "I don’t know if it is one position as much as everyone playing. You see a lot of development now. The wide receivers are taking giant strides every single day but that’s because they’re young guys. If they weren’t we’d be in trouble. Last year a lot of them just played on talent; now you’re watching them run routes the right way, understand leverages, understand coverage, trusting in their techniques. You’re seeing a lot of improvement out of that position."   

That's it boys!