A look at Tennessee’s depth chart
* returning starter (started at least six games in 2011)
Tyler Bray Jr., 6-6, 215*
Justin Worley So., 6-4, 213
Rajion Neal Jr., 5-11, 212
Marlin Lane So., 5-11, 205
Ben Bartholomew R-Sr., 6-2, 252*
Justin King Fr., 6-2, 225
Drae Bowles Fr., 6-0, 202
Justin Hunter Jr., 6-4, 200
Jason Croom Fr., 6-5, 232
Cordarrelle Patterson Jr., 6-3, 205
Zach Rogers Sr., 6-0, 172
Mychal Rivera R-Sr., 6-4, 245*
Brendan Downs So., 6-5, 254
Antonio Richardson So., 6-6, 332
Alan Posey R-Fr., 6-5, 321
Dallas Thomas R-Sr., 6-5, 310*
Marcus Jackson So., 6-2, 310
James Stone Jr., 6-3, 300*
Mack Crowder R-Fr., 6-2, 283
Zach Fulton Jr., 6-5, 324*
Kyler Kerbyson R-Fr., 6-4, 320
Ja’Wuan James Jr., 6-6, 323*
Alex Bullard R-Jr., 6-2, 300*
*Michael Palardy Jr., 5-11, 177
Derrick Brodus Jr., 5-11, 188
Matt Darr R-So., 6-1, 213*
Michael Palardy Jr., 5-11, 177
Maurice Couch R-Jr., 6-2, 299
Marlon Walls R-Jr., 6-2, 285
Daniel McCullers Jr., 6-6, 377
Daniel Hood R-Jr., 6-4, 292*
Darrington Sentimore R-Jr., 6-2, 280
Steven Fowlkes R-Sr., 6-5, 255
*Jacques Smith Jr., 6-2, 244
Jordan Williams So., 6-5, 260
Herman Lathers R-Sr., 6-0, 230
Christian Harris R-Fr., 6-1, 226
*A.J. Johnson So., 6-2, 240
Channing Fugate Jr., 6-1, 219
*Curt Maggitt So., 6-3, 240
Willie Bohannon R-Sr., 6-2, 253
*Prentiss Waggner R-Sr., 6-2, 182
Deion Bonner Fr., 5-11, 178
Justin Coleman So., 5-10, 182
*Marsalis Teague Sr., 5-11, 182
*Brent Brewer Jr., 6-1, 214
Byron Moore R-Jr., 6-0, 193
Brian Randolph So., 6-0, 195*
Rod Wilks R-Sr., 6-0, 221
Devrin Young So., 5-8, 172*
Cordarrelle Patterson Jr., 6-3, 205
Devrin Young So., 5-8, 172*
Quenshaun Watson Fr., 5-9, 175
Tyler Bray said he’s not changed much since last year. That’s apparently good and bad.
UT’s quarterback is certainly talented at 6-foot-6 with the ability to make every throw. Yet the question with the cool California kid has been his maturity on and off the field, and two silly summer incidents seemingly diminished Bray’s positive off-field actions and repetitive statements from coaches and players that he’s more mature. Either way, the fate of the Vols’ season relies heavily on Bray’s right arm. And being in the right frame of mind.
“It’s the understanding the expectations and the maturity from that standpoint,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “He is the same guy. He is, he’s still Tyler Bray. He still does the same things on the field, but I feel like he’s a lot more engaged in what he’s doing. That really comes from experience.”
Backup Justin Worley has used the three starts he made as a freshman to his benefit with a “great camp” this month, and UT sees a bright future with freshman Nathan Peterman.
Despite Rajion Neal’s bold early statement in an August scrimmage, the Vols might not know if they have a legit SEC running back until they’ve played a game or two. Dooley feels, though, he’s got three players who can help there, and determining who gets plays and touches is the biggest remaining uncertainty.
“The reality is it’s probably not going to happen until we start playing games,” he said. “It’s probably going to take a few games to see who really will emerge.”
Repairing the nation’s 116th-ranked rushing game in 2011 begins with the tailbacks. Neal and sophomore Devrin Young have the speed to break big plays. Marlin Lane’s biggest impact last season came when he caught balls out of the backfield.
The biggest emphasis for UT’s backs under coach Jay Graham has been generating yards after contact by playing more physical.
The three figures are hard to miss on UT’s practice field.
Given their ability, it’s likely their status on opposing defensive coordinators’ game plans will be the same.
The Vols hope Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers and Cordarrelle Patterson will become an unguardable three-pronged attack in the passing game. Hunter and Rogers eacg surpassed 100 yards in UT’s first two games last season, and the season’s unraveling began when Hunter got hurt. Patterson was the jewel of UT’s 2012 signing class and enters with an incredible amount of hype.
“I’ve got three guys that are 6-foot-2 and above; they all runs 4.4s [in the 40-yard sprint] and jump 37 [inches] and above verticals,” Bray said, stating his case that his receivers are the nation’s best. “It’s kind of hard to compete with those guys.”
The Vols continue to sort through their receiving corps behind that trio. Drae Bowles and Jason Croom are good-looking freshmen, Zach Rogers is a senior and walk-on Jacob Carter’s spring performance was hard to ignore. Add tight ends Mychal Rivera and Brendan Downs to the mix, and Bray will have plenty of options when he drops back to throw.
Despite an array of high-profile talent, UT’s offensive success likely will begin and end with the five guys up front, who have taken most of the criticism for last season’s run-game failures. The Vols are now flush with experience and options up front. With a new coach, a refreshed attitude and a new addition to the lineup in big left tackle Antonio Richardson, the offensive line believes it can handle its responsibility.
“The team basically follows us,” said right guard Zach Fulton. “If we do bad in practice, it basically means the whole team’s not going to do very well in practice. We’ve got to set the tempo as an offensive line. We know the receiving corps is great, so if we give Tyler time, he’ll get the ball to somebody.
“It’s no pressure. it’s what we do. It’s what we’ve been trained to do.”
The Vols were forced to play walk-on Joseph Ayres at defensive tackle against Florida in 2010, Dooley’s first season. Two years later, Ayres is now at tight end, where the need was greater. How far UT has come with its defensive-line depth. But is it quality depth?
“You’ve got start by seeing who can go out there and help us win games in this league,” Dooley said. “That’s where we’re not there. We’ve got a lot of guys, but who are our guys we’re going to count on to go help us win?”
Darrington Sentimore and Maurice Couch have earned praise with their activity in training camp. The Vols believe junior college transfer Daniel McCullers — the 6-foot-6, 377-pound nose tackle brought in for UT’s new 3-4 defense — is coming along nicely. At end, Steven Fowlkes is back from academic limbo, Daniel Hood is back from shoulder surgery and Marlon Walls is back as the group’s most vocal player.
The top of UT’s depth chart at linebackers looks good. A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt were SEC All-Freshman team selections in 2011. Herman Lathers, the team’s second-leading tackler in 2010, is the Vols’ most invaluable defender. Jacques Smith believes he’ll flourish in the Jack linebacker spot in new coordinator Sal Sunseri’s defense.
“We’ve got a lot guys [who are] big, strong, can run,” Lathers said. “Lot of guys that know the scheme. Our main job is get our D-line to trust us, trust that we’re going to be in our gaps, trust that we’re going to run behind them and play behind them good.”
Behind the starters, though, it’s a little dicey. Sophomore Jordan Williams is the ideal size for a Jack linebacker, and Willie Bohannon is dependable on the outside. Lose Lathers or Johnson, though, and UT might have to scramble.
UT’s secondary was gashed for 16 pass plays of 25 yards or more last season, and the only change from that cast was the loss of a nine-game starter in the academically ineligible Izauea Lanier.
Senior cornerback Prentiss Waggner and sophomore safety Brian Randolph are two playmakers, but the other defensive backs must step up. Corners Marsalis Teague and Justin Coleman are trying to bounce back from rough 2011 seasons, while Eric Gordon searches for every-game consistency. After struggling pre-injury last season, Brent Brewer is leaner and quicker, and Byron Moore has put his transitional season behind him.
The Vols plan to play more aggressively at the line of scrimmage, and separate position coaches should be a big benefit. With the aggressiveness comes the likelihood UT will allow as many big plays as it makes. Does the group have enough speed to keep everything in front of them?
“There’s a lot of guys out there who have some skill sets, and they’re all getting a lot better,” Dooley said. “There’s just a lot of improvement. They’re engaged, they’re working hard, they’re practicing the right way, and I’m just anxious to see what they’re going to look like.”
Though Young brought life to the Vols’ return game, UT’s kicking game continues to search for a solution. Most of the problems could be solved by Michael Palardy’s left foot. Once rated as one of the nation’s top high school kickers, the junior has struggled with injuries and poor performances as a Vol.
He missed field goals against Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky and made just four kicks of 30 or more yards. Neither he nor Matt Darr averaged more than 38 yards on punts. Dooley declared the kicking competition open after spring practice, and Palardy made all four kicks, including a 48-yarder, in a scrimmage earlier this month.
“I want the most productive guy, the most consistently productive player, to punt for us,” Dooley said. “Same thing with kicking. I don’t care if Mike does all of them or one of them. I’m past that. He’s old, he’s mature, he’s physically ready, so we’re going to do a fair evaluation of all them to see who’s the better guy.”
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