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
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
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.
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.
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,
Last Meeting: 2005,
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-9 Air Force ---
N-4 LSU W, 30-27 (ot)
N-18 at Vanderbilt L, 28-24
VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE:
Lucas Taylor did not catch a pass
as a freshman receiver for the
In short, the 5-foot-10, 168-pound
speedster could be
You're probably wondering: If he's
so talented, why didn't
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, InsideTennessee.com