PREVIEWING THE SEC: Tennessee Volunteers

Looking to bounce back from a rocky 2005 season that kept the Volunteers out of a bowl game for the first time since 1988, head coach Phillip Fulmer and the rest of the Tennessee faithful will rely on the return of 11 starters to put the program back among the Nation's elite.

Traditionally a football powerhouse, Tennessee came out the gates strong last season, being ranked third in the country at the start of the year and beating a fourth ranked LSU squad in September before an inconsistent offense sputtered down the stretch, ending the year with a 5-6 mark.


Returning to the helm of the offense this season will be Erik Ainge (6-6, 220, Jr.) at quarterback. Ainge split time as the starter with Rick Clausen during his sophomore year, compiling 737 yards and five touchdowns in three starts and eight total appearances. If Ainge struggles in the role, as happened at times last season, the Volunteers could call upon either Jim Bob Cooter (6-1, 220, Sr.) or Jonathan Crompton (6-4, 225, Fr. [RS]) to fill the role.


Also coming back for another season in the Tennessee passing game are wide receivers Robert Meachem (6-3, 210, Jr.), Bret Smith (6-3, 190, Sr.) and Jayson Swain (6-1, 205, Sr.). Meachem led the Volunteers last season with 29 receptions for 383 yards and two touchdowns, while Swain finished just behind him with 27 catches for 380 yards. Smith ended the year with 223 yards and three touchdowns, tying for the team leader in scoring catches.


Chris Brown (6-3, 250, Jr.) will be filling the tight end spot for the second year in 2006. Last season, Brown caught 14 passes for 141 yards


Four players will compete for playing time at tail back for Tennessee this season, with the obvious frontrunner being Arian Foster (601, 215, So.) who stepped into the role masterfully last season when starter Gerald Riggs Jr. suffered an injury. Foster racked up 879 yards and five touchdowns in just five starts as a red shirt freshman, earning spots on the Freshmen All-SEC and Freshmen All-American teams.


The three other tail backs looking for playing time this year are Montario Hardesty (6-0, 205, So.), Ja'Kouri Williams (5-10, 190, So.) and LeMarcus Coker (5-11, 205, Fr. [RS]). Hardesty will be returning from a knee injury that sidelined him just three games into the 2005 season, while Williams and Coker both show potential, but has thus far not had much game experience.


Tennessee's offensive line will have four holes to fill this season, as the only returning player to the front five is All-SEC right tackle Arron Sears (6-4, 320, Sr.). Likely to be joining Sears at the opposite tackle will be Ramon Foster (6-6, 325, So.) who garnished Freshman All-SEC honors last year while starting in two games and appearing in five more.


David Ligon (6-5, 300, Sr.) will likely fill the role at center, earning four starts at the position last season.


The guard positions, though not cemented, could be filled by Anthony Parker (6-3, 305, So.) and either Michael Frogg (6-4, 300, Jr.) or Malcom Rawls (6-5, 315 Fr.), giving the Volunteers a starting line weighing it at over 300 lbs. each.


Defensively, Tennessee will bring back five starters from last year's squad, including one lineman and all four members of the defensive secondary.


The lone returnee to the line in 2006 will be defensive tackle Justin Harrell (6-4, 300, Sr.), a second-team All-SEC selection last season, where he recorded 39 tackles, eight quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Likely to fill in the other tackle position is J.T. Mapu (6-3, 275, Jr.), who started at tackle for the Vols in 2003 before taking a two year hiatus for religious missions.


At the ends, Tennessee will bring to the table experienced players in Turk McBride (6-4, 275, Sr.), who has played both tackle and end, and has seen action in 30 games during his career, as well as Antonio Reynolds (6-3, 260, Jr.) and Xavier Mitchell (6-2, 252, Jr.), who have totaled 21 tackles and 15 tackles, respectively, during their tenure as backups.

After losing all three of last season's starting linebackers, the Vols will look to reload in the middle with Marvin Mitchell (6-3, 235, Sr.), who started twice at the end of the '05 campaign, leading the way.


The defensive secondary will bring to the table four seasoned veterans this year in cornerbacks Jonathan Wade (Sr., 6-0, 195) and Inquoris Johnson (Jr., 5-9, 180) as well as Antwan Stewart (Sr., 6-0, 195) at strong safety and Jonathan Hefney (Jr., 5-9, 185) at free safety.


Hefney led the defensive backfield last season with 65 tackles and three interceptions, while Wade contributed with two interceptions, Stewart with 47 tackles and Johnson with a team-high eight pass break ups.


On special teams, the Vols return place kicker James Wilhoit (5-10, 198, Sr.) and punter Britton Colquitt (6-3, 198, So.). Wilhoit was 14-19 on field goals and made all 21 of his extra point attempts last season.


Lucas Taylor (6-0, 185, So.) is the probable lead kick returner after leading the team last season with 19 returns for 428 yards.





All-Time Series: 5-20-3


Stadium: Neyland (104,079)


First Meeting: 1925, LSU 0, Tennessee 0


Last Meeting: 2005, Tennessee 30, LSU 27 (ot)


Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer, 128-37 at UT and overall, 14 years


2005 in Review: 5-6, 3-5 SEC


Final '05 Ranking: Not ranked


Off. / Def. Systems: Multiple / 4-3


Returning Starters: 13; 6 offense, 5 defense, kicker, punter


Last Bowl Appearance: 2005 Cotton Bowl


Last Conference Championship: 1998





Total Offense: 326.3 (8th - SEC / 90th - NCAA)


Rushing Offense: 128.3 (9th - SEC / 80th - NCAA)


Passing Offense: 198.0 (9th - SEC / 8th - NCAA)


Scoring Offense: 18.6 (10th - SEC / 101st - NCAA)


Total Defense: 298.2 (3rd - SEC / 6th - NCAA)


Rushing Defense: 82.5 (1st - SEC / 2nd- NCAA)


Passing Defense: 215.7 (10th - SEC / 54th - NCAA)


Scoring Defense: 18.6 (5th - SEC / 16th - NCAA)


Turnover Margin: -7 (10th - SEC / 95th - NCAA)





Rushing: Arian Foster – 183 rushes, 879 yards, 5 TD


Passing: Erik Ainge – 145-66-7, 737 yards, 5 TD


Receiving: Robert Meachem – 29 catches, 383 yards, 2 TD


Tackles: Jonathan Hefney – 65 TT (45S, 20A)





Date                Opponent                    '05 Result


S-2                  California                      ---


S-9                  Air Force                     ---


S-16                Florida                        L, 16-7


S-23                Marshall                       ---


S-30                at Memphis                  W, 20-16


O-7                  at Georgia                    L, 27-14


O-21                Alabama                       L, 6-3


O-28                at South Carolina          L, 16-15


N-4                  LSU                             W, 30-27 (ot)


N-11                at Arkansas                  ---


N-18                at Vanderbilt                 L, 28-24


N-25                Kentucky                     W, 27-8





Lucas Taylor did not catch a pass as a freshman receiver for the University of Tennessee football team in 2005. You can't get much more obscure than that, but he won't be obscure much longer.


Barring injury, Taylor will catch quite a few passes in 2006. He'll carry the ball on some end-arounds. He'll return kickoffs … and maybe punts, as well. He'll probably throw a flanker pass and he might even line up at quarterback on occasion.


In short, the 5-foot-10, 168-pound speedster could be Tennessee's version of Alabama's Tyrone Prothro, a little guy with a knack for making big plays. Taylor, who once ran for 539 yards in a high school game, has that same kind of game-breaking ability. Even seeing limited action in 2005, he recorded a 47-yard kickoff return (Tennessee's longest of the season), a 20-yard punt return and an 18-yard scrimmage run.


You're probably wondering: If he's so talented, why didn't Taylor catch a single pass last fall? Simple. He played quarterback in high school and is still in his infancy as a receiver.


The Vols are determined not to waste his talents while he gets on-the-job training at wideout, though. They've got him returning kickoffs and some punts. They've installed a double-pass to utilize his throwing skills. They've even put together a package that will enable him to play quarterback in certain situations.


You haven't heard of Lucas Taylor just yet. But you will.


- Randy Moore,

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