With one of the most impressive coaching records in the country already on his resume, Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer hopes to achieve even more success this fall, as the Volunteers try and topple defending champion Florida and make their way back into the SEC championship picture.
Fulmer, who has been at
A former Volunteer offensive guard
himself, Fulmer's coaching career includes six SEC east titles, two conference
championships, and one national title, going 13-0 in 1998. He has led
This season, the Volunteers will
have to replace nearly half of their starters, including a pair of wide
receivers in Robert Meachem and Jason Swain that helped give
While the offense will be without two other players in addition to the two receivers, the defense took an even bigger hit this off-season, as the Vols will have to replace starters at six defensive spots this fall.
One person that will return as a key player for Tennessee this season is senior quarterback Erik Ainge, who emerged as one of the SEC's top signal callers behind Kentucky's Andre' Woodson and LSU's JaMarcus Russell last year. As a junior, Ainge completed 233 of 348 passes for 2,989 yards and 19 touchdowns in 12 appearances.
His nine interceptions and 151.9 efficiency rating also rank the quarterback among the best in the conference.
While his performance at quarterback was noteworthy last year, Ainge had the benefit of a stellar tandem of starting wide receivers in Meachem and Swain, two players that Tennessee must replace in a hurry if the Volunteers hope to see the same success through the air this season as they did in 2006.
Meachem, a first round selection in this year's NFL draft, led the SEC in receiving last season with 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns on a 71 receptions to average just under 100 receiving yards per game.
The Volunteers will look to a quartet of experienced receivers to fill the shoes of Meachem and Swain this year, including juniors Josh Briscoe and Lucas Taylor, sophomore Austin Rogers and senior Casey Woods.
Ainge went to his tight ends a good bit last season, as the two combined for 45 catches for 421 yards.
On the ground, sophomore tailback
LaMarcus Coker will play
Senior David Holbert will likely serve as the Volunteers top fullback this fall, though the team opted to run a two-tight end offense without the fullback some last season.
The left side of the line will see two new starters, with the top candidates for the job being sophomore Chris Scott, who lettered as a freshman, at tackle, and either junior Ramon Foster or sophomore Jacques McClendon at tackle. As a unit, the Volunteer line blocked for 1,404 yards of rushing while allowing 19 sacks last season.
Mitchell was second on the team with four sacks last season.
The two tackle spots have a handful of players capable of earning the starting job, with one obvious choice being senior J.T Mapu, a three year lettermen that saw time in all 13 games as a junior. Junior Demonte' Bolden is a possible candidate at tackle as well after recording 22 tackles and one sack last year.
At linebacker, senior Ryan Karl and junior Jerod Mayo return as starters on the outside, while the spot in the middle will be filled by a new body after the departure of team tackle leader Marvin Mitchell. Mayo led the team with five sacks last year, and was the third in total tackles with 83, while Karl 66 tackles with one sack on the season. A host of athletes will be vying for the open job at middle linebacker.
The lone returnee to the defensive backfield is senior free safety Jonathan Hefney, the squad's leading return tackler who amassed 96 tackles and a team-high five interceptions in 2006.
Junior Roshaun Fellows, who started in games during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, could also play a part in the secondary this season, along with Antonio Gaines and Ricardo Kemp and Jarod Parrish, both of whom earned letters a year ago.
On special the Volunteers will miss departed kicker James Wilhoit, the conference's second-leading scorer last year. Looking to replace Wilhoit at kicker will either be red shirt freshmen Chad Cunningham and Daniel Lincoln, sophomore David Campbell or junior Nino Polimeni, none of whom have attempted a kick in college.
Junior Britton Colquitt will be back as the Volunteers starting punter after averaging 44.9 yards per punt, the second best mark in the SEC, during the 2006 campaign.
The kickoff return responsibilities were spread around last year, and could be again this fall, with LaMarcus Coker the possible front runner.
Jonathan Hefney, who averaged 12.1 yards per punt return on 17 tries, will be back as the defense's punt handler.
- Matt Dearman
All-Time Series: 6-20-3
First Meeting: 1925, LSU 0,
Last Meeting: 2006, LSU 28,
Stadium: Neyland (104,079)
Head Coach: Phillip Fulmer, 138-41 at UT and overall, 15 years
2006 IN REVIEW
2006 Record: 9-4, 5-3 SEC (T-2nd East)
Final '05 Ranking: 25th AP, 23rd Coaches, 17th BCS
Returning Starters: 13; 7 offense, 5 defense, punter
Last Bowl Appearance: 2005 Outback
Last Conference Championship: 1998
2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (SEC/NCAA)
Total Offense: 372.5 ypg (6/36)
Rushing Offense: 108.0 ypg (10/96)
Passing Offense: 264.5 ypg (2/12)
Scoring Offense: 27.9 ppg (4/34)
Total Defense: 327.5 (8/50)
Rushing Defense: 146.7 ypg (8/72)
Pass Defense: 180.9 ypg (5/27)
Scoring Defense: 19.5 ppg (8/33)
Rushing: LaMarcus Coker – 108-696, 5 TD, 6.4 ypc, 63.3 ypg
Passing: Erik Ainge – 348-233, 2989, 19 TD, 9 Int., 249.1 ypg
Receiving: Chris Brown – 31-239, 1 TD, 18.4 ypg
Tackles: Jonathan Hefney – 96
Interceptions: Jonathan Hefney – 5
Sacks: Jerod Mayo – 5
Tackles for Loss: Jerod Mayo – 12.5
Date Opponent '06 Result
S-8 SOUTHERN MISS ---
N-3 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE ---
N-17 VANDERBILT W, 39-10
Offense at a glance:
Fielding three new secondary starters can be troublesome. Fielding three new secondary starters without a proven pass rush can be a recipe for disaster. But that's the situation facing the Tennessee Vols this fall.
Except for senior All-America
candidate Jonathan Hefney at free safety,
A strong pass rush could take some pressure off of the youthful defensive backs but the 2006 Vols recorded just 17 sacks, the program's lowest total since 1988.
Rising senior Jonathan Mapu and junior Demonte Bolden will assume the tackle spots manned in '06 by NFL Draft picks Justin Harrell and Turk McBride. Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds return for another year as the first-team ends but they combined for just five sacks last season.
Given the shaky outlook in the front four and secondary, the Vols are fortunate to be loaded at linebacker. Jerod Mayo is an All-SEC candidate at middle linebacker after starting on the weakside in 2006. Ryan Karl is back for a second year as the first-team strongside linebacker. Flashy sophomore Rico McCoy assumes Mayo's old spot.
Defense at a glance:
Unless the Vols can pinpoint some capable receivers, they'll be wasting one of the NCAA's premier quarterbacks. Rising senior Erik Ainge completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,989 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2006 with just nine interceptions.
Regardless of what happens with the wideouts, Ainge will have excellent weapons at tight end and running back.
Seniors Chris Brown (6-3, 250) and Brad Cottam (6-8, 270) should be as good as any tight-end tandem in college football. Meanwhile, the running corps consists of Arian Foster (10 career starts), Montario Hardesty (five starts) and LaMarcus Coker (four starts). All are quality players who have been injury prone.
- Randy Moore, Rocky Top News