Tennessee preview

Critics grumble that Tennessee still runs the same basic offensive scheme that Walt Harris installed in the early 1980s. That may be true but at least the Vols are promising some new wrinkles for 2007.

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe installed a no-huddle attack during spring practice. Unfortunately for the Vols, first-team quarterback Erik Ainge wasn't available to develop much familiarity with the new system, having spent most of the spring recuperating from minor knee surgery.

Cutcliffe also toyed with a direct-snap package in the spring similar to the one Darren McFadden ran so effectively for Arkansas in 2006. Wideout Lucas Taylor, who was an option quarterback prior to college, seems to be an ideal candidate for the direct-snap attack, having once rushed for 539 yards and six touchdowns in a single high school game.

Assuming Ainge makes a full recovery – and all indications are he will – Tennessee will feature one of the NCAA's premier passers in 2007. The problem is, the Vols lack premier pass catchers. In fact, many observers wonder if Tennessee has even AVERAGE pass catchers.

Minus the top three receivers from 2006, the Vols' top returning pass catchers are tight end Chris Brown (238 yards on 31 catches) and Brad Cottam (182 yards on 14 catches). The afore-mentioned Taylor is the most productive of the returning wideouts after accumulating a mere 101 yards on 14 grabs, an average of just 7.2 yards per reception.

Tennessee is hoping for big things from sophomores Quintin Hancock and Austin Rogers. Both showed flashes in early 2006 before being hampered by health problems. Given the shaky outlook at wideout, incoming signees Kenny O'Neal (junior college) and Brent Vinson (prep school) could be immediate starters.

While the lack of proven receivers makes the passing attack suspect, the glut of proven rushers makes the running game appear solid. Arian Foster, LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty give UT one of the better three-man tailback rotations in the SEC. Of course, they're dependent on the blocking of a line that must replace second-round NFL Draft pick Arron Sears.

Like the offense, Tennessee's defense has a lot of holes to fill between now and September. Gone are 2006's top three tackles (including first-round NFL Draft pick Justin Harrell), the No. 1 middle linebacker and four of the top five defensive backs.

Compounding the youth in Tennessee's secondary is the fact the Vols recorded just 17 sacks in 2007, their lowest total since the 1988 team registered just 14. Unless the Big Orange can muster a significantly better pass rush in '07, the defensive backs could be in for a long season.

The Vols can't just worry about defending the pass, however. They allowed 1,907 rushing yards in 2006, most since the 1990 defense allowed 2,054.

On a positive note, Tennessee returns the NCAA's best punter, Britton Colquitt. On a not-so-positive note, he also may have to be the place-kicker now that four-year starter James Wilhoit is gone.

Given all of the holes to be filled between now and September, the no-huddle and direct-snap packages may not be the only new wrinkles at Tennessee this fall. There may be a few new wrinkles in head coach Phillip Fulmer's forehead, as well.


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