'Explosive' attack

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One of only three assistants back from Tennessee's 2011 football staff, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney says there's a reason for that.

"It's obvious," he said. "Our offense was poor, and nobody wanted to hire me."

The sharp-witted Vol aide was joking, of course, but subsequent remarks made clear that he found nothing funny about Tennessee's offensive output in 2011.

"The product we put on the field last year was something I wasn't real proud of," Chaney said. "I'm not one that likes to run away from that. We're going to get it corrected and move on from there. I have a little pride about me also."

Basically, 2011 could be divided into two segments: When the Vols had wide receiver Justin Hunter they exploded, beating Montana 42-16 and Cincinnati 45-23 in Games 1 and 2. Once they lost Hunter to a torn ACL they imploded, averaging just 15.7 points over the final 10 games.

Chaney refuses to blame last year's offensive meltdown on Hunter's injury, however.

"It's damaging when you take a talented player out of your offense; it changes how you look," he said. "But injuries are a part of life. That's not an excuse. We didn't handle that well so, basically, I'm looking at how to handle that situation better. I'm just making sure our mentality's right where we're ready to go and whoever we put on the field is ready to play football."

Chaney essentially built last season's attack around Hunter and fellow wideout Da' Rick Rogers.

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has some weapons at his disposal in 2012.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"When they're your two best players, you're trying to get them the football," he conceded. "We were probably not as good at the alternative things (running the ball, utilizing other receiving options) we needed to do. I think I've probably fallen victim to that throughout my whole career: I hang my hat on the good ones, then deal with the negative stuff as it takes place."

Tennessee added four heralded receivers in its most recent signing class, so the loss of a key wideout shouldn't be quite so devastating in 2012 as it was in 2011.

"Depth is critical," Chaney said. "Those kids who are coming in are going to be expected to get on the field and play right now."

The coordinator hopes the return of Hunter and the addition of the four new wideouts will give the Vols a big-play dimension that was missing most of last fall.

"Ultimately, if you're going to score points you've got to be explosive," Chaney said. "We're trying to get that down. With the addition of a few kids we've signed, and with the help of our existing players, I think we'll be fine."

The loss of Hunter wouldn't have been nearly as damaging if the Vol rushing attack had been capable of picking up the slack. It wasn't. In fact, it was downright abysmal. Still, the scheme won't change significantly.

"From a schematic standpoint, do a lot of changes need to be made? Probably not," Chaney said. "We just want to do the things we do better. We didn't run well, we didn't block well, and those are the two things that are important when you're trying to get it done."

Basically, running the ball is a matter of technique and toughness.

"Any time the run game is not being effective you're not being physical enough," Chaney said. "That's the first thing that stands out. It shows up on our video (of last season's games). We want to be a more physical football team and, as a play-caller, I want to try and put them in better positions from an Xs and Os standpoint."

In the end, the run game only works if the blockers execute better than the guys lined up across from them.

"Ultimately, they've got to go out there and win their individual battles," Chaney said. "That gets back to fundamentals, technique and mindset. You've got to have that swagger about you — you want to whip his hind-end — and that's what we've got to develop a little bit more of."

Only one Vol running back averaged better than 3.7 yards per carry last season — Rajion Neal at 5.0 — and he spent most of the year playing wide receiver due to fumble problems. Chaney and head coach Derek Dooley are pondering whether or not to return Neal to tailback for 2012.

"We're still in that debate system right now," Chaney said. "We haven't come up with a conclusion.... I feel comfortable playing Rajion in the backfield or at wide receiver."

Justin Hunter

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