Although fan expectations have slipped in the wake of last fall's 5-6 record, Fulmer says UT's coaches and players expect to compete at the highest level this fall.
"Our goals haven't changed," he said. "Year in and year out, our first goal is to win the Eastern Division title. The second goal is to win the Southeastern Conference championship and have a chance to play at the next level, as far as some special opportunities at the end of the season."
One reason the Vols struggled in 2005 was that their ego level exceeded their effort level. The head man is determined that won't happen again.
"We have a number of keys to this season," Fulmer said. "Effort is the No. 1 factor. We're going to be on the field giving the effort on a day-to-day basis that it takes to be competitive and win this conference."
Tennessee has more question marks than usual this season. The offense has a new coordinator (David Cutcliffe), two new position coaches and miles to go to upgrade an attack that averaged a meager 18.6 points per game last fall.
"We're going to have to test ourselves early to find out where we are," Fulmer said. "We need to establish a personality…. We can only do what our experience and ability level allows us to do. Obviously, getting our offensive line solidified is going to be very important. And quarterback play, as we've said a number of times, is going to be crucial."
Defensively, the questions mostly involve the front seven, where Tennessee must replace six 2005 starters.
Minus 2005 starting defensive ends Parys Haralson and Jason Hall, Fulmer said it is imperative that "Robert Ayers, Xavier Mitchell, Wes Brown and Antonio Reynolds continue to come on…. That's huge for us."
There will be three new starters at linebacker, so that area has the head man's attention, as well.
"Obviously, our youth at linebacker (is a concern)," Fulmer said. "I think we're talented there but the schedule is such that we don't have a chance to wait on their development."
Since the new-look front seven is sure to experience some growing pains, the Vols' veteran secondary will need to pick up the slack.
"One of the keys for our defense is for the secondary to play to the level of experience that it has," Fulmer noted. "It can be a real strength for us."