Before the last two seasons, I felt fairly confident of my pre-season predictions, both 6-6. There really wasn’t much thought about it at the time. It was too obvious. But for the Lexington Embarrassment, I would have had a perfect score. It wasn’t really anything to be proud of, because the cards seemed turned over before either of those seasons started. Low-hanging fruit.
But this season is an entirely different story. The 2012 season is impossible to predict with any gut-feeling of confidence. Anywhere between five and nine wins won’t make me blink. Which is why I have looked at the components of this team in much more detail than in the previous seasons.
But it isn’t all about us on paper. We do have opponents, and our status as a Southeastern Conference member has not changed.
So hear is a split-second look at each of Tennessee’s 12 opponents followed by my prediction for the final won-loss tally.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Hello again. Here is where we kick off the 2012 season, one of the most anticipated in recent memory (I would also include 2009 in that bucket).
I want to start by focusing on the defense because I believe this is the side of the ball that will determine whether this season is a success or a complete bust. Another reason is that most people, casual fans mostly, relate to the offense. And in Knoxville, with some of the riches that the Vols possess on offense, it is only natural that this is where the bulk of the focus is aimed.
So, being a contrarian to a fault, let’s look at the Tennessee 2012 defense. This post will address the defense as a whole – the new scheme being implemented by a new defensive coordinator and a host of new position coaches. Then, the next three days will look at the individual compartments: the defensive line, the linebackers, and the secondary.
Another season is about to begin. Optimism rides high as it usually does across the Volunteer state. That’s what makes anticipation of each season a special time of year.
But, some of the August predictions (pardon the pun) from fans that I’ve been reading have a whiff of peyote. Remember, the majority of starting slots on this year’s squad are filled with freshman and sophomores.
Memories of the Flaming Sophomores of 1928?
I was thinking, while watching an NFL pre-season game this week with family on vacation at the South Carolina coast, that I had never given much thought to the fact that college football has no pre-season games. The NFL has four; the NCAA has none.
Then I asked the question: how reliable are NFL pre-season games as an indicator of the future? The trite answer came first to my mind: not much, as pre-season games do not have the same sense of urgency as a regular-season game.
But the second answer that dawned on me seemed more relevant to the matters at hand: NFL pre-season games give us a helluva lot more indication of future performance than the sundry workouts and scrimmages held on a college campus in August.
And, that’s all we’ve had in the days leading up to the 2010 season opener days – workouts and scrimmages. Nothing more. Read More…