Senior All-America candidate Jonathan Hefney is rock solid at free safety but the Vols' other three starting spots are a bit shaky.
Rising sophomore Marsalous Johnson and little-used seniors Marsalous Johnson and Jarod Parrish are the projected starters coming out of spring practice but they have just one career start among them, that belonging to Parrish way back in 2004.
These inexperienced defenders will be sorely tested in 2007 based on the ratings compiled by Hayes. In a recent blog entitled "Top 5 Offensive Players at Each Position," he lists three 2007 Vol opponents among the elite wide receivers in college football.
The five are Earl Bennett of Vanderbilt (No. 1), DeSean Jackson of Cal (No. 2) and Percy Harvin of Florida (No. 4). Tennessee opens the season at Cal on Sept. 1, visits Florida Sept. 15 and hosts Vanderbilt on Nov. 17.
Hayes notes that Bennett "doesn't get near the credit/respect/publicity he should; he can do it all." The writer goes on to note that Cal's Jackson "reminds me of Ted Ginn Jr. - he's electric, but how many times did Ginn catch a slant or run a drag underneath?"
Other SEC offensive players Hayes lists among the top five at their positions are:
Darren McFadden of Arkansas (No. 1 at running back), Jonathan Luigs of Arkansas (No. 2 at offensive line), Brandon Coutu of Georgia (No. 3 at place-kicker) and Ryan Succup of South Carolina (No. 5 at place-kicker).
Obviously, no one from Tennessee is anywhere to be found. That suggests Vol offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe may have his work cut out for him this fall.