About the Vols From the Vols

Being part of a great network, we have a chance to share expertise across the network with the great folks that cover the different team sites. Randy Moore joins us from InsideTennessee.com to bring you his perspective on the Tennessee team that will square off Saturday afternoon with the Gators in The Swamp.

Randy Moore has been covering the Tennessee program since the mid-1980s, when he was a sports writer/columnist for The Knoxville Journal. He is now in his 17th year as editor of Rocky Top News/InsideTennessee.com. He has a unique perspective on the program, having covered Big Orange football for three decades. Here is what Randy has to say about the current Vols:


Quarterback: Tyler Bray (6-6, 210)

Strength: Bray has a big-league arm and supreme confidence in it, sometimes completing throws that other passers wouldn't attempt. He is very accurate on passes of 30 yards or more and has the zip to complete the deep out and other intermediate routes. After completing just 55.8 percent of his passes as a freshman in 2010, he is connecting on a sizzling 78.5 percent in 2011. He ranks No. 4 nationally in passing yards (698) and fifth in passer efficiency rating (204.2), although it must be noted that these numbers were compiled against Montana of the Football Championship Subdivision and a Cincinnati team that went 4-8 last fall and allowed opponents to complete 65 percent of their passes.

Weakness: Bray is basically immobile and his decision-making remains suspect. He had two ill-advised passes picked off by Montana in the 2011 opener, although each was nullified by penalty. He also took three sacks that game rather than throw the ball away or toss it to a check-down receiver. Bray was not sacked or intercepted by Cincinnati in Game 2 but that may have been because the Bearcats got absolutely no pressure on him.

Running back: Tauren Poole (5-10, 215)

Strength: Poole is a determined, full-bore rusher who has the power to run between the tackles and enough quickness to get outside. He ran for 1,034 yards in 2010 but gets very little recognition, a slight which seems to motivate him. A quality individual and team leader, he is revered by his offensive linemen, who set a preseason goal of getting him 2,000 yards. Poole is a capable pass protector who catches the ball very well out of the backfield, reeling in 22 passes a year ago.

Weakness: Poole misses some holes and cutback lanes, prompting understandable concerns about his vision. He sometimes seems indecisive, pausing to try and juke a defender rather than running over or around him. Poole fumbled on back-to-back carries in Game 1 but Tennessee recovered each time. He is not a home-run threat.

Fullback: Ben Bartholomew (6-2, 251); Channing Fugate (6-1, 250)

Strength: Fugate, who started the last five games of 2010 and the 2011 opener, is a somewhat nimble runner, having broken a team-best 44-yard kickoff return as an "up man" vs. Montana. He also catches the ball well out of the backfield. Bartholomew, who started Game 2 vs. Cincinnati, is a better blocker and brings the versatility of having played some tight end in 2010.

Weakness: Fugate's pass protection was a factor in the three sacks Tennessee surrendered in Game 1, which is why he lost the first-team job. Bartholomew is not much of a running threat.

Da' Rick Rogers
Receivers: Justin Hunter (6-4, 200); Da'Rick Rogers (6-3, 215); Zach Rogers (6-0, 180)

Strength: Hunter has been incredible this fall, catching 16 passes for 302 yards (18.9 average) in the first two games. Blessed with a lanky frame, 4.4 speed and a 41-inch vertical jump, he represents a matchup nightmare for most college corners. He ran strictly go routes as a freshman in 2010 but has expanded his repertoire this fall to include short and intermediate routes, as well. Da'Rick Rogers uses his strength to outmuscle smaller cornerbacks and break tackles. He has 15 catches for 200 yards in the first two games. A strong runner, he excelled on end-arounds in 2010 but opponents have taken that away since late last season. Zach Rogers is a deceptively fast wideout who posted his career high for catches with 4 in last year's Florida game. He had a 16-yard TD catch vs. Cincinnati last Saturday.

Weakness: Hunter struggled to get off the line against physical corners as a 184-pound freshman in 2010. Now carrying 200 pounds, he did not exhibit this problem in the first two games of 2011 but those outings were against inferior competition. Da'Rick Rogers was such an erratic route-runner last fall that he got more touches on end-arounds (16) than receptions (11). His concentration seems to wane at times, resulting in the occasional drop. Zach Rogers' lack of size limits his blocking ability and his durability. There is a huge drop-off at wide receiver when you get past Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers.

Tight end: Mychal Rivera (6-3, 254)

Strength: Rivera bounced back from a reception-free opener to catch six passes for 54 yards in Game 2. He displays some skills as a route-runner and considerable determination as a blocker. He catches the ball well and seems to be a capable runner after the catch.

Weakness: Rivera does a lot of things reasonably well but does not excel in any area. He is not the deep threat predecessor Luke Stocker was.

Offensive line: LT Dallas Thomas (6-5, 305); LG Alex Bullard (6-2, 309); C James Stone (6-3, 308); RG Zach Fulton (6-5, 330); RT Ja'Wuan James (6-6, 324).

Strength: Thomas is the closest thing Tennessee has to a veteran O-lineman, being a junior with 15 career starts. He excels as a pass blocker, which is why he is entrusted with protecting Bray's blind side. The versatile Bullard, a transfer from Notre Dame, is the chief backup at center and left tackle, in addition to starting at left guard. Stone has started seven consecutive games at center and is regarded as a very heady player. Fulton is a road-grader who is at his best drive-blocking in the run game. James has started all 15 games at right tackle since arriving on campus a year ago. This group has looked outstanding in pass protection.

Weakness: Tennessee, which starts four sophomores and Thomas, got very little push from the line in Game 1 against Montana of the FCS. Thomas missed the second half of Game 2 with a knee sprain that could hinder his effectiveness in Game 3 at Florida. Bullard practiced almost exclusively at center before moving to left guard midway through fall camp. He filled in at left tackle when Thomas went down last week and also serves as the No. 2 center. All of that moving around could affect Bullard's consistency. Fulton was flagged for a couple of false starts in Games 1 and 2. James isn't the bulldozer his size and athleticism suggest he should be.

Coming on strong: Florida native Marcus Jackson (6-2, 306) of Vero Beach filled in at left guard when Bullard stepped in for Thomas last week and performed well for a true freshman. He is raw but exhibits tremendous potential, especially as a run blocker.


Defensive line: DT Malik Jackson (6-5, 270); NG Daniel Hood (6-4, 293); DE Jacques Smith (6-2, 255); DE Ben Martin (6-4, 265); Marlon Walls (6-2, 281)

Strength: Jackson, a preseason first-team All-SEC pick, offsets his lack of size with quickness, aggressiveness and technique. A quality pass rusher, he posted five sacks in 2010. Hood might be the team's most pleasant surprise. He isn't a big playmaker but he clogs the middle of the line by playing hard-nosed, technically sound football. Smith, Tennessee's most gifted D-lineman, is stout against the run and improving as a pass rusher. Martin, a fifth-year senior and the leader of the front four, is solid against the run and the pass. Walls, like Smith, is a better run-stuffer than pass rusher. He recorded a career-best 4 tackles in the 2011 opener vs. Montana, despite playing a backup role.

Weakness: Jackson is about 30 pounds light for an SEC defensive tackle. He also exhibits a propensity for personal-foul penalties. Hood spent 2010 as a third-team offensive lineman and has just two games of experience on defense. Smith is still learning to exploit his superior talent. Martin is questionable for the Florida game due to a sprained ankle.

Coming on strong: Mo Couch (6-2, 306) is a junior college transfer who gets nearly half of the snaps at nose guard but also can play the 3-technique (tackle). Couch is exceptional against the run but has stamina concerns due to asthma.

Linebacker: MLB Austin Johnson (6-2, 240); SLB Curt Maggitt (6-3,215); WLB A.J. Johnson (6-2, 245); Daryl Vereen (5-11, 215)

Strength: Austin Johnson is a savvy senior who excels against the run and in a leadership role. He is a physical presence in the middle who also shines in the mental aspect of the game. Maggitt and A.J. Johnson are true freshmen who offset in athleticism and enthusiasm what they lack in experience. On passing downs Maggitt often lines up as a rush end, where he can exploit his explosive quickness. Vereen, who generally comes in for A.J. Johnson on passing downs, shows a knack for man-to-man coverage.

Weakness: Austin Johnson is long on experience but a bit short on athleticism. Maggitt and A.J. Johnson are long on athleticism but painfully short on experience. Vereen is an undersized 'backer who missed a couple of critical tackles in Game 2 vs. Cincinnati.

Secondary: CB Marsalis Teague (5-10, 185), CB Justin Coleman (5-10, 183), FS Prentiss Waggner (6-2, 185), SS Brent Brewer (6-1, 215); CB Izauea Lanier (6-1, 190); CB Art Evans (5-11, 180)

Strength: Even with Janzen Jackson dismissed from the team, Tennessee has plenty of experienced defensive backs. Teague has 10 starts and is Mr. Dependable. Coleman, a true freshman, showed enough talent in fall camp to beat out several veteran DBs for a starting job. Waggner is a ball hawk who intercepted five passes in 2010, returning three for touchdowns. Brewer is a big-time hitter who essentially serves as a fourth linebacker. Evans is a former starter who had a 37-yard pick six in the opener vs. Montana. Lanier is a lanky junior college transfer who is pushing for Coleman's starting job.

Weakness: Despite loads of depth, Tennessee's defensive backfield has been shaky, surrendering three passing touchdowns in two games against inferior foes. Coleman was beaten on an 80-yard TD pass vs. Montana and was burned for another big gain by Cincinnati. Waggner's shortcomings as a tackler make him a better fit at corner but he's stuck at free safety until freshman Brian Randolph proves he's ready to handle the job. Junior college transfers Lanier and Byron Moore (who scarcely plays) have not lived up to expectations.


Specialists: P Matt Darr (6-1, 221); PK Michael Palardy (5-11, 176)

Strength: Palardy's first three kickoffs in Game 2 produced two touchbacks and an on-sides kick recovery. He is six for six on field-goal attempts of less than 40 yards, including 1 for 1 this fall. Darr reportedly has a "big leg," although he has yet to display it.

Weakness: Darr is averaging a mere 34.3 yards per punt, with a long of 37. Palardy is 0 for 3 on field goals beyond 39 yards in college, including a 43-yard miss last weekend vs. Cincinnati. Although he has three touchbacks to date, he is not consistently getting his kickoffs inside the 5-yard line.

Returners: KR Da'Rick Rogers (6-3, 215); KR Tauren Poole (5-10, 215); PR Marlin Lane (6-0, 205)

Strength: Head coach Derek Dooley likes big return men who can break tackles, so Rogers and Poole certainly qualify on that score. Rogers is averaging 24.8 yards on four runbacks and Poole got 27 yards on his lone return. Freshman Lane appears to be the team's most natural and instinctive runner, although his 4.6-yard average on five punt returns is unimpressive.

Weakness: Neither Rogers nor Poole is much of a threat to break the big one and "take it to the house." Lane has struggled to field punts and may have confidence issues.

Coming on strong: Freshman Devrin Young (5-8, 165) was signed as a return specialist last February but missed the first two games this fall due to a fractured collarbone. He has looked so good in practice this week, however, that Dooley says he might let him return punts vs. Florida in Game 3. Giving a freshman his college baptism in the noise factory known as The Swamp would be a huge gamble but Dooley called for a first-quarter on-sides kick last weekend vs. Cincinnati, so don't bet against seeing Young Saturday afternoon on Florida Field.

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