Injuries vs. ineptitude

It's interesting to note that the two Tennessee football assistants fired Sunday afternoon coached the two positions – wide receiver and offensive line – which supposedly were most affected by injuries in 2005.

Go-to receiver C.J. Fayton missed one game and was limited in two others due to a high-ankle sprain. Robert Meachem, who was supposed to emerge as a superstar this fall, didn't approach that level. Reportedly, he was nicked up most of the season.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer noted several times that injuries to wideouts contributed significantly to the inefficiency of UT's passing game. Does that mean Pat Washington was fired because his guys couldn't stay healthy? Or were injuries used as a smoke screen to cover inept coaching?

One thing's for sure: Washington's receiving corps underachieved in 2005. Chris Hannon, blessed with the physical tools to be a first-round NFL draft pick, didn't catch a pass in the South Carolina game and caught just one ball each against UAB and Vanderbilt. Bret Smith went without a reception vs. Alabama, Memphis and Vanderbilt.

The only Vol receiver who played up to his potential in '05 was Fayton (when healthy). Questioned at midseason as to why he had emerged as Rick Clausen's go-to guy, Fayton replied: "Because he knows I'll be where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be there."

That was a clearcut indictment of the other wideouts, suggesting they were NOT where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there on a regular basis. Tennessee's receivers also ran some sloppy routes, blocked ineffectively downfield and dropped too many passes. At times effort appeared to be lacking, and that's the unpardonable sin.

Health issues also were a hot topic in most discussions of the 2005 offensive line. Richie Gandy and David Ligon, the top two centers, suffered preseason injuries that forced guard Rob Smith to start at center in Games 1 and 4.

All told, four Vols started at center in 2005, with none starting more than four games. Guard Cody Douglas also missed a start. These injuries forced some shuffling at the other O-line positions. As a result, right tackle Albert Toeaina was the only Vol lineman to start Games 1-10 at the same position, and he missed Game 11 on a disciplinary suspension.

Offensive line play is based on cohesion, and cohesion is difficult to attain when you start six different lineups in 11 games. Fulmer praised O-line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens several times in recent weeks, then dismissed him within 24 hours after the season finale.

Injuries or ineptitude?

That's a point worth pondering as Tennessee searches for two new position coaches.


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