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I’m Going to Miss the Dooley Pressers

This week in the Vol Nation, apart from being a Jon Gruden Worship Marathon, there was featured quite the weekly press conference hosted by Derek Dooley.

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Is Tyler Bray the Wrong Type of Quarterback for Tennessee?

Tyler Bray is a prototypical pro-style college quarterback. He is tall, becoming more muscular as he physically matures, and has one of the strongest arms in the nation. But given the strengths, and more importantly the weaknesses of the 2012 Vols (and the 2011 team for that matter), could Bray be the wrong guy for this team?

A heretical thought?

Perhaps not…

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The Quarterbacks: A Full Season, Please

Here is the last installment of our 2012 season preview, where we examine the quarterbacks. Hopefully for 2012, that starts and ends with junior Tyler Bray (#8), because it goes without saying that if Tennessee Vols football is to turn the corner in 2012, it is going to have to have a full season of a healthy Tyler Bray. It was one thing to lose Justin Hunter early last season, but the biggest season-killer was the injury to Bray.

Even with a significant injury, Bray ended up starting seven games and missing ‘only’ five games with a fractured right thumb suffered in the Georgia game. And the interesting part about that was 2011 was the second straight season that Bray did not feature against the best opposition. Thus, it is a reasonable argument to say – as distasteful as it might seem to some - that we really don’t know how good Tyler Bray really is. Or perhaps more directly, we don’t know if Bray is as good as we collectively seem to think he is.

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The Receivers: A Little Depth with Little Experience, but Lots of Promise

Less than a week ago, Vols fans were walking around almost embarrassed regarding the bounty of riches Tennessee possessed at the receiver positions. That changed on Thursday morning when it was announced that junior receiver Da’Rick Rogers was suspended indefinitely due to a violation(s) of team rules. Dooley recently commented that it was “recent events” that led to the decision for suspension. It appears likely that Rogers will never play in an orange jersey again, but nothing has been announced as final at this moment. [UPDATE: It appears that Rogers will transfer to Tennessee Tech.]

Losing a top player is always a tough thing to deal with (note the injuries to Justin Hunter and then Tyler Bray in 2011). But when that player is the ONLY player at a skilled position that has ANY semblance of SIGNIFICANT experience – plus having led the SEC last season with 67 receptions and 1,040 receiving yards – it causes observers to rethink their predicted W-L balance for the upcoming season.

But there is the chemistry factor.

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The Backfield: No Where To Go But Up

The Vols might have to take a somewhat backfield-by-committee approach, looking to improve on last season’s dismal performance (90 yards per game, 2.8 yards per carry, ranked 116th in the nation). Gone is Tauren Poole who had earned to be the Vol workhorse in 2010, achieving 3rd Team All-SEC honors even though he ran behind a freshmen offensive line, but who regressed dramatically last season to the point where everybody was scratching their head while muttering to themselves, “Is it the line, or the running backs? Is it the line, or the running backs?…”

Or perhaps it was because there was no position coach for the running backs.

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The Offensive Line: Coming Into Their Own

Finally, to the offense.

No, we’re not going to address the Da’Rick Rogers soap opera. Yet. Instead, we will begin where you should always begin with: the salt of the earth; the offensive lineman.

Where to begin? Last season, so many expectations were put on this O-Line before any of them stepped on Shields-Watkins Field for the opener. Those expectations were either over-inflated or just simply not achieved in any way, shape, or form. It all depends on how you look at it. One thing is certain – their collective performance was an embarrassment. I don’t know how else to put it.

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The Special Teams: Not So Special So Far

We’re done with the daily defense previews. Now before we move on to the offense – and yes, we’ll get to the Da’Rick-less receivers – let’s peek into the backroom closet where we keep our kickers and returners.

New special teams coach Charlie Coiner comes to Knoxville to lead what is now becoming an old story: a woefully underperforming kicking game compared with the standards set over the last 80 years of Tennessee Vols football. Coiner’s coaching experience related to special teams comes from both the NFL (Bears and Bills) and the college ranks (including LSU and Vanderbilt).

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The Secondary: Quality and Experience

There is a new flavor in the secondary this season, with among other things the arrival of new cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley who was a graduate assistant under then linebackers coach Sal Sunseri at Alabama, and Josh Conklin who was a defensive coordinator at The Citadel. Also, the new 3-4 defensive philosophy being instilled by Sunseri will bring with it a more aggressive feel in the secondary compared with the bend-but-don’t-break defense of the last couple of seasons. The DBs will be called on to blitz more with the safeties coming further toward the line as well as to jam receivers at the line more often and more aggressively.

Almost everybody from last season’s secondary returns. That squad was better statistically than in reality. The Vols ranked 12th in the nation (178 yds per game) against the pass (remarkably only 6th in the SEC), but part of that can be attributed to playing run juggernauts that relentlessly pounded the pigskin against the overmatched Vols defense. There was some significant improvement overall in how the defense performed, and the question is how much can that carry over into 2012.

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The Linebackers: Adding Depth and Toughness

This position is the focus of all observers of Tennessee football going into the 2012 season. This is because it is the Starchild of a 3-4 defense, soon coming to a playing field near you.

Gone to Alabama is last season’s LB coach Lance Thompson. Third Team All-SEC MLB Austin Johnson is also gone due to graduation (as well as part-timer Daryl Vareen). In comes new Defensive Coordinator Sal Sunseri, who characterizes his linebacking corps – he is also assuming the duties of the LB position coach – as perhaps the most talented group of young LBs he has ever coached. Well, it is hard to verify the first part of that statement, but the second part is most definitely true – they are for the most part young. But now there is some semblance of depth, although not nearly enough for a team contending for a conference championship.

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The Defensive Line: Now a Nose and Two Ears

John Palermo, Tennessee’s new defensive line coach, is a man with a wealth of experience, with coaching stints at places including the Washington Redskins in the NFL and college stops Wisconsin, NC State, Austin Peay, Minnesota, Memphis, Appalachian State, Notre Dame, Miami, Tennessee Tech, and most recently Middle Tennessee State. He takes over a DL that has seen steady improvement over Dooley’s first season in Knoxville (“Year Zero”). It doesn’t look championship quality yet, but the DL should improve over last season’s sack total as well as being a more aggressive unit under Sunseri’s leadership. And, it looks to be physically bigger as well.

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Kellen Moore, Drew Brees, Tyler Bray, and the NFL draft

One of the fascinating developments in Tennessee Vols football has been the emergence of Tyler Bray, soon-to-be junior quarterback. As a freshman, he took the starting job away from Matt Simms for the November stretch and the bowl game. As a sophomore, he was the selected starter for the entire season. Only an injured thumb prevented him from his first full season as the number one. Could his only full season be his last?

The tagline that has been commonly applied to Bray is “a surefire first round pick, perhaps top 5.” Or, at least something similar. To make this sentiment even more dramatic, many feel that this will apply to him immediately after his junior year. Right. Bray is good enough to leave early for the pros and good enough to be one of the most coveted picks in the 2013 draft.

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The greatest Duck ever

LaMichael James is leaving the Ducks for the bucks. The Oregon all-purpose running back is skipping his senior season for the NFL draft.

During his press conference on Friday, James indicated that he was told he will likely go in the third round. His relatively diminutive size (5′ 9″, 195 pounds) is the likely reason he will not be a first-rounder. But it is his speed combined with agility and a seemingly innate talent to break tackles that will bring a lucrative pay day.

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The Arnett family cleverly crank up the sympathy meter

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is losing ground every day.

An unidentified family member related to DeAnthony Arnett is quoted (see below) by an article today at Mlive.com, written by Hugh Bernreuter of the Saginaw News. It serves the purpose of adding to the public sentiment for Arnett’s case of wanting to leave Tennessee on his own terms.

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PR is now driving the DeAnthony Arnett bus

Tennessee’s best wide receiver not named Justin Hunter or Da’Rick Rogers wants out of Knoxville. DeAnthony Arnett, the Saginaw, Michigan native who just finished his freshman season with the Vols, is petitioning the court of public opinion to be released from his scholarship so that he can play in his native state of Michigan. Among other outlets, Mr. Arnett chose GoBlueWolverine the Magazine to write his public petition. His penned plea finished with the following…

Therefore as a student athlete I feel coach Dooley is trying to hinder my success by not allowing me to compete at a BCS level and neglecting the fact my father is severely ill.

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When Opportunity Knocks, Big Things Can Happen

NOTE: After this article was written and posted, Derek Dooley announced that Justin Worley will be the Vols’ starting QB this Saturday against South Carolina. That announcement does not affect the views presented here; it enhances them.

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The thankful end of Saturday night’s game at Alabama may come to be remembered as the beginning of the career of the next great Tennessee Vol quarterback.

I’m surely a heretical figure within the Vol Nation by saying that I’ve yet to be sold (completely) on Tyler Bray as a true big-time college QB. He’s not one.

Now, this all depends on one’s definition of “big-time.” I have my own. Young Tyler hasn’t met mine. Perhaps he’s met yours.

Perhaps he will become one. But that broaches into the territory of fortune tellers and sooth sayers.

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