Dooley on depth

New Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley took time on Wednesday to discuss the Vols' depth. He just didn't take MUCH time. That's because there isn't much depth to discuss.

The fact many of the key players are missing from a 2009 team that went 7-6 with them underscores the task facing the new head man in 2010. Dooley didn't belabor the problem but he didn't sugar-coat it when asked if he is concerned about the roster's lack of proven depth.

"Long-term I'm not. Short-term I'm very concerned," he admitted. "I do think that over the course of a couple of recruiting years we'll start getting a lot of stability. I think the players will enjoy being a part of the program but we do have some short-term concerns that really can't get fixed. We are extremely thin in a lot of areas; we have a lot of inexperience in a lot of areas, and that's only going to get fixed in time."

Tennessee's depth problems are easy to trace. The 2006 and 2008 signing classes did not pan out as well as hoped. Several players left when head coach Phillip Fulmer did 16 months ago, and several more left when successor Lane Kiffin bolted two months ago.

On a positive note, a number of players who accomplished very little under Fulmer - tailback Montario Hardesty, tight end Luke Stocker, offensive linemen Cody and Cory Sullins, linebacker Nick Reveiz and end Chris Walker - flourished under Kiffin. Likewise, Dooley expects several players who accomplished very little under Kiffin will step into key roles under him.

"Any time you have a change it's a great opportunity for guys who maybe weren't performing the way they thought they could perform," he said. "Maybe they were in the doghouse for whatever reason. It's a great way to start anew."

Dooley says Vols who started in 2009 won't necessarily start in 2010 but that past performance will be considered when evaluating a player.

"Is there open competition? Yes," he said. "However, guys that have had some significant production the past year are going to have some early opportunity. But there's not a lot of them."

As noted earlier, that's painfully evident. Tennessee has a lot of holes now that the No. 1 quarterback, the No. 1 tailback and four of the five starting offensive linemen from 2009 are gone. On the plus side, most of the top pass receivers return.

"Offensively, we have our top three catchers back - the two wideouts and Luke (tight end Luke Stocker) - but we averaged like 5.5 yards an attempt, so it wasn't like we were piercing people throwing the ball," Dooley said. "But certainly they've had production in a game."

There isn't much production returning on the other side of the ball. The top two tackles, the most productive linebacker and the two most experienced defensive backs are no longer part of the program.

"Defensively, I think we lost our top four (tacklers)," Dooley said. "But, is it an open slate and everybody's starting over? They are in some ways but we're not going to look at a guy who was productive last year and say, 'You've got to prove it to us.' We got 12 games that they proved it to us."


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