Friday, September 9, 2011

4 Bold Predictions for Volunteers in SEC This Year

1. The Vols haven't beaten Florida since 2004 and haven't won in the Swamp since Casey Clausen was at quarterback in 2003.

However, this year that will all change.

Florida is a team in transition under coach Will Muschamp. Tennessee will be the new regime's first test, and Tyler Bray and company will be more than ready to spring the upset.

2. Tennessee will be ranked for the first time since 2008 and undefeated when LSU comes calling to Neyland Stadium.

Not willing to predict a win over the Bayou Bengals just yet even though a much weaker Tennessee team gave them all they could handle last year in Baton Rouge.

The Vols will be coming off a wins over Buffalo and Georgia and will be in position to make a run at the SEC East title.

3. The former elite-11 prospect Tyler Bray now has over a year of tutelage under Drew Brees former college offense coordinator, Jim Chaney, and it will show this year as his big arm will be able to often find a duo of very talented wide receivers, Justin Hunter and DaRick Rogers.

Also, protected by a much improved offensive line, Bray will have much time to dissect defenses.

4. You heard it here first. South Carolina may be the odds on favorites and most talented team in the East, but things have a funny way of shaking out sometimes in the SEC.

No team is immune to an upset, and the Vols have backed their way into an SEC Championship appearance before.

Also, second-year SEC coaches are on a heck of a run right now, no reason why it will stop.

Monday, August 29, 2011

UT: Tyler Bray in the saddle

Tyler Bray remembers the last pass he threw in a real game very well.

“I can pretty much tell you the whole play,” the University of Tennessee quarterback said of his game-sealing interception against North Carolina in the Music City Bowl last December.

“It’s play-action pass. I have [fullback Channing] Fugate out in the flat. [Receivers] Gerald [Jones] and [Denarius Moore] are coming on the backside. And I threw it right to No. 52.

“I try to forget and move on, but that game and that play is hard to forget.”

As hard as that particular play was for Bray to forget, it’s probably harder for anybody to forget what he did in getting the Vols to that game. As a freshman, Bray entered UT’s game at South Carolina in the third quarter last October and promptly tossed a pass right to Devin Taylor for the easiest touchdown of the Gamecocks defensive end’s career.

Bray bounced back with two scoring throws to keep the Vols in the South Carolina game, and he flourished from there, feasting on the easier part of the Vols’ schedule by throwing 16 touchdown passes in five games.

His physical gifts are obvious, but the story with Bray over the course of spring practice, summer workouts and preseason camp in August has always been about the mental part of his game. Improving his consistency, maturity and leadership skills and investment to reaching his potential are atop his to-do list.

“He’s asking a lot better questions,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “I think he’s had a good summer in throwing the football and trying to learn as a quarterback.” “You earn the respect to be a leader, to me, based on your level of commitment to the program,” coach Derek Dooley said. “People have a hard time respecting somebody if they don’t see them committed to doing everything they can to help us win. I think he’s proving that to our team. It’s a work in progress.”

That progress hit a snag in the Vols’ first August scrimmage, when Bray struggled with the tempo and command of the offense. He bounced back with a better second scrimmage, but his completion rate (45 percent) in UT’s two evaluation scrimmages was troubling.

UT’s coaches have put a lot on Bray throughout the entire offseason, and Dooley has noted that the staff has to help Bray by not putting too much on the quarterback and negatively affecting his ability to make big plays. “We’re starting to get an understanding of when we’re pushing too much because we don’t want to get him uncomfortable,” Dooley said. “I wish Tyler would get a little more consistent in his approach. That comes with maturity.”

The consistency and maturity the Vols are hoping for from their quarterback can come only with time and experience. Bray won’t be a secret to opposing defensive coordinators anymore, and stout defenses at Florida, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas await.

First, however, Bray would probably just prefer to have a different last pass to remember.

“He knows where we have to be as an offense,” senior tailback Tauren Poole said. “He knows that we need him to be on top of his game to be a good offense. We’re definitely making strides, and him being a great leader like he is definitely has to come along. He’s only a sophomore [and] still a young one, but we need him to step up.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tennessee Volunteers Football: Final Predictions for the 2011 Season

Tennessee Volunteers will go 8-4 in the 2011 regular season.

I'm not one of those guys who thinks the Vols will make the SEC Championship each year, either. I call it like I see it. For instance,the Titans will not win more than five games this year.

The team is young and thin at a few positions, but you simply can't look past how tremendous this offense will be. Tennessee could win games just getting Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter connected.

Just imagine what they'll do with Tauren Poole, Da'Rick Rogers and that great offensive line.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Prentiss Waggner lays claim to starting position at UT

Amid the competition for the University of Tennessee's two cornerbacks spots, Prentiss Waggner has risen somewhat quietly to the top. The junior ball-hawk has enough versatility that the Volunteers could play him at any of its three secondary positions, but Waggner has found a spot.

"I know the playbook in and out," Waggner said after Saturday afternoon's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium. "I know the linebackers and D-ends, basically the whole defense. I'm comfortable wherever they put me."

With the Vols' preseason camp drawing to a close on Wednesday, Waggner has found a home at one cornerback, with junior Marsalis Teague and true freshman Justin Coleman fighting it out for the other spot. Junior college transfer Izauea Lanier also figures to fit into the rotation as the Vols plan to play a handful of defensive backs and use their five-defensive back nickel package a majority of the time.

Each of UT's cornerbacks has a unique attribute that makes them different. Teague was the Vols' best player there last year despite battling a nagging turf toe injury most of the latter half of the season, Coleman's physicality and competitiveness have impressed the Vols' coaches since his arrival on campus in January and the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Lanier has the staff's ideal size for the position.

Waggner, though, has the experience, instincts and playmaking ability -- he took three interceptions back for touchdowns last season -- to go along with his production this month.

"He's pretty settled at corner right now," coach Derek Dooley said. "I think he's been our most consistent corner. He's still got that ability to go to safety if something happens or just depending on who we play. Prentiss has been playing the best, most consistent out there."

The Vols have liked Coleman since the four-star recruit out of Brunswick, Ga., showed up to a camp last summer and battled receiver DeAnthony Arnett, who would eventually join him at UT, in one-on-one drills.

"They went every time, DeAnthony would win three and Justin would win one, but I mean they went like 30 times in a row," secondary coach and recruiting coordinator Terry Joseph recalled last week. "Justin Coleman not one time said, 'I'm tired, give me some water.' He just said, 'Let's go, line up again, line up again.'

"We knew his competitive character, and that's what really was the deal-closer for us, was that this guy, he's one of our guys. That's made us take him and offer him [a scholarship] and get him. Obviously he's proven so far that we were right."

The 5-10, 183-pound freshman was a surprise during spring practice, and he's brought the competitive nature he showed at the camp as a high school senior with him to UT.

"That's the No. 1 thing I like about the guy," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said last week. "He is extremely competitive, and if he gets beat, he lines right back up and wants to play again. Playing corner, that's the No. 1 thing. That's huge, so he's continued to show that he's a willing tackler, he's a physical guy, he can run and I expect Justin to get better really fast.

"We're going to push him, and he knows that we're holding him high expectations, but that's the way it's got to be for him."

That may not translate into Coleman starting ahead of Teague, who's proven his ability, and Lanier, who continues to progress after his late start in the race in terms of experience and comfort with UT's defense. As Teague put it, the corner's focus is on individual improvement rather than the competition from their teammates.

"We're not really worried about the depth chart," he said. "We just kind of go in when the coach calls us. There's some days where there's a different person in there. We're not really worried about that, we're just focusing on getting better every day."

Dooley said after two practices last week he was looking for more from his cornerbacks, and later in the week he gave his preferences for the position.

"You've certainly got to have a level of size and speed to hold up, you've got to have some instincts, and then you've got to have a little playmaking ability, meaning if the ball's in the air and you're there, you've got to make the play," he said. "You're going to get beat some. They're going to catch some balls, but you've got to have a little playmaking ability."

Which is probably why Waggner sits atop the race less than two weeks before UT's season opener.

"I'm still out there floating around, from corner to nickel to safety," he said. "I'm just out there having fun."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vols' defense starting to show development

Tennessee's defensive players gathered in the film room before Saturday's scrimmage to watch a highlight reel of all the unit's big plays of previous years.

When they walked off the field at Neyland Stadium, they left with the assurance that they at least weren't on the wrong end of any plays that would motivate the offense in the future.

Outside of a deep catch by freshman DeAnthony Arnett that was called back for offensive pass interference, the Vols' secondary largely prevented Tyler Bray and the rest of UT's passing game from finding much success with the deep ball Saturday. Freshman Tom Smith had the game's longest run, a 22-yarder, but he didn't find the end zone.

It was a performance that fell short of matching Tuesday's lock-down effort, but was one that coach Derek Dooley said would allow him to enter the film room today with an optimistic vibe.

"The offense made a few plays and we missed a few fits here and there," junior Prentiss Waggner said. "When it comes down to it, coaches always talk about bend but don't break when we get in the end zone and just force field goals. I think we did that today."

The defense surrendered just two touchdowns — a 4-yard catch by Da'Rick Rogers and an 18-yard grab by Matt Milton — while allowing five field goals. The unit, though, was on the field for long periods of time, allowing drives of nine plays, two of eight plays and one of seven plays.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tauren Poole mocks Tyler Bray's "little bitty arm."

Is there a personality problem at Tennessee? Or is there just a senior whose mouth is moving faster than his brain? Vols' senior tailback Tauren Poole gave the Chattanooga Times-Free Press one doozy of a quote regarding his team's star quarterback.

"We definitely need the running game to win games," senior tailback Tauren Poole said. "We can't rely only on Tyler's little bitty arm to throw the ball every single play, even though he's talented enough. We're going to need to run the football."

"Tiny little arm?" that "tiny little arm" has done more than enough to give Tennessee fans hope that the dog days on Rocky Top are over there. Meanwhile, Poole's stats from last year are a little more up and down.

"Though the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Poole was one of just six players in the league to break the 1,000-yard mark and had solid games against Oregon (162 yards), LSU (109) and Alabama (117), he had his struggles. He rushed for a combined 96 yards in losses to Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina."

It sounds like Poole is going to definitely run more than his mouth this season.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tennessee Vols Ready for Dooley’s Second Season

Our countdown heads to Rocky Top, where Tennessee will begin the second season of the Derek Dooley era. The Vols won their last four regular-season games after a slow start. Can they build on that in 2011?

2010 Record: 6-7

2010 Skinny: The Vols started the season at 2-6, including a non-conference loss to Oregon and their first six SEC games. They also narrowly avoided a 1-7 start by beating UAB in double overtime. But November was a different story for Tennessee, which won all four of its games in the regular season’s final month. Yes, it beat up on lowly in-state rivals Memphis and Vanderbilt, as well as struggling Ole Miss and Kentucky, but the Vols were sparked by a quarterback change. Matt Simms was replaced by Tyler Bray, and the improvement was noticeable. The season ended with a crushing double-overtime loss to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.

Returning Starters: 13

Coach: Derek Dooley (second season, 6-7)

Key Players: DT Malik Jackson, CB Prentiss Waggner, RB Tauren Poole

2011 Schedule:

Sept. 3 vs. Montana
Sept. 10 vs. Cincinnati
Sept. 17 @ Florida
Oct. 1 vs. Buffalo
Oct. 8 vs. Georgia
Oct. 15 vs. LSU
Oct. 22 @ Alabama
Oct. 29 vs. South Carolina
Nov. 5 vs. Middle Tennessee
Nov. 12 @ Arkansas
Nov. 19 vs. Vanderbilt
Nov. 26 @ Kentucky

Anthony’s Take: Bray returns for his sophomore season, which should see some fine development after he took over for Simms as a freshman. The Vols also return Poole, a 1,000-yard rusher. The offense will be fine. LB Nick Reivez, a team leader, is gone, and the team already finished 10th in SEC in total defense. As always, the Vols’ SEC slate will be tough. And this year, they will make trips to Florida, Alabama and Arkansas. Oof. I know that logic dictates this team’s bump up to eight wins in Dooley’s second year, but something tells me it’s going to be the status quo in Knoxville.

Jim’s Take: The offense returns a lot of talent at the skill positions and getting safety Janzen Jackson back after he left school for awhile is huge. This is a talented team. You can’t really blame Tennessee for that cakewalk nonconference schedule when you have a Murderer’s Row of an SEC slate. The Vols will likely be underdogs in all but two SEC contests. But with four easy nonconference games and contests against Kentucky and Vanderbilt to end the season, UT only needs one upset to reach seven regular season wins. I see them doing that and winning a bowl game to show progress in year two.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tennessee Football: Things Looking Up

Tennessee natives know that when someone says Tennessee football they don’t mean the Titans. University of Tennessee football has claimed six national titles and 16 SEC titles over the years, but now they’re better known as an underdog team who can beat the best or the SEC’s biggest pushover on any given day.

Right now most major fans are clinging to tradition and of course, Peyton Manning and their post-Manning championship season. With Lane Kiffins’s terrible contribution to the Vols in his less than one year coaching, it’s hard to imagine them being restored to their former glory.

The University of Tennessee has placed a two-year probation on both its football and basketball programs in an attempt to offset any advantages the programs may have gained through their illegal actions, and punish the coaches without hurting players. Half of new head coach Derek Cooley’s coaching staff will not be allowed to make recruiting phone calls during the 2011 recruitment season, and their 2011 spring recruiting says have been reduced from 168 to 162. Despite everything that the program will be going through, things are looking up.

Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray stepped up at the end of his freshman season and was an instant success in Tennessee’s lackluster passing game. While there’s no one in the game now who could fill Peyton Manning’s shoes, Tyler Bray is a vast improvement over what Tennessee has endured since Manning’s departure and the fall of Coach Phillip Fulmer. Finishing his rookie season with a quarterback rating of 142.73 and a great performance against North Carolina in the Music City Bowl, Tyler Bray has a lot of momentum and backing from fans going into his sophomore year; he should prove to be one of the best players Tennessee has seen in a long time.

The real key to Tennessee’s success will be its offensive line. Though lackluster last season, they were young. In 2011, Tennessee will be going into the season without a single freshman starting on the offensive line, giving talented running back Tauren Poole and Bray a chance to shine.

The real question when it comes to Tennessee’s offense is their wide receivers. The Vols graduated three of their top wide receivers last season, leaving only Justin Hunter as a returning receiver. However, the Vols managed to pick up two top wide receiver recruits out of high school in DeAnthony Arnett and Da’Rick Rogers, and they could help the Vols keep up the pace on offence, or just drop the ball completely, you never know with freshmen. But that’s Volunteer football: completely unpredictable.

Monday, July 25, 2011

'On the same page'

In his first 18 months on campus, Tennessee head man Derek Dooley and his staff have made some significant strides:

- They've healed a team psyche that was alarmingly fragile after predecessor Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern Cal.

- They've unified a fractured fan base.

- They've upgraded a depleted roster.

- They've restored some stability to a program that endured two head coaching changes within 15 months.

So, what does Dooley consider the most significant accomplishment of his Tennessee staff's first 18 months on the job?

"I think the biggest thing was the continuity that we had when we turned the clock and ended the season," Dooley said. "We were able to really clean up how we’re doing things, where we’re headed and effectively communicate it to the players. That’s a hard thing to do when you have nine new coaches and inherit a new team as late as we did.

"I just feel like we’re all on the same page. There’s not a lot of misunderstanding of how things are going to be done and what we expect. I think that’s been healthy for the organization."

Games are won in the fall but championships are won in the offseason. Dooley is impressed with the enthusiasm and diligence his players are showing this summer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Little but lethal

Veteran Vol fans surely remember Terence Cleveland, a pint-sized receiver from Sweetwater who averaged a whopping 17.1 yards per catch as a four-year letterman at Tennessee from 1986 through '89.

Now there's another diminutive wideout from the same area on the Big Orange radar. That would be Tre Herndon, a 5-10, 161-pounder from East Hamilton High of Chattanooga. Though only a rising sophomore, he showed advanced enough skills at Tennessee's June camp to earn the Most Improved Receiver Award.

His pride was obvious as he grasped the trophy.

"I feel good, excited," he said.

Herndon said he liked "everything" about the UT camp, adding: "I learned a lot. The coaches were great and everything else was good."

The young receiver seemed almost a little awed by Vol head coach Derek Dooley.

"I shook his hand," Herndon noted. "He's a nice guy. I like him."

Like most of the prospects who visit Tennessee's campus, Herndon was blown away by the sheer size of Neyland Stadium, along with the Haslam Practice Field, the Neyland-Thompson Indoor Football Complex, the spacious strength and conditioning area and the Gibbs Hall dormitory.

"The facilities are great," the young man said, nearly gushing. "The dorms are great. I liked the indoor and outdoor fields."

In addition to Tennessee, Herndon says he's interested in Florida State and Florida, adding: "I'm originally from Detroit, so I like Michigan, too."

Although he still has three high school seasons to play before signing a college scholarship, Herndon already knows the key attributes he's looking for in a football program.

"A good facility," he said, "with good coaches where I can learn."

So here is a prospect that we'll be a good addition tot the UT Vols !

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tauren Poole, Tyler Bray named to Walker, O’Brien watch lists

The Tennessee offense was totally passed over by conference coaches.

One day later, two of its leading playmakers earned some attention from folks around the country.

Both quarterback Tyler Bray and running back Tauren Poole were among the many Vols not to earn a spot on the preseason All-SEC teams as voted on by the coaches on Thursday, but Friday morning both were confirmed as potential candidates for much bigger awards.

Bray, on the heels of his breakout finish to his freshman season, was tabbed for the Davey O'Brien Award watch list, an honor that goes annually to the nation's top quarterback.

Poole was one of eight rushers from the SEC named to the list for the Doak Walker Award, surely part of the reason the senior missed out on a preseason slot on the coaches team given the crowded backfield in the league.

Both Bray and Poole had already earned spots on the list for the Maxwell Award, which goes to college football's most outstanding player.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Vol great speaks to support Bristol Youth Leadership

Tennessee Volunteers quarterback legend Condredge Holloway said Thursday that the university’s football program can withstand a current investigation into alleged recruiting violations and grow stronger from it.

“We’re not in the best of times right now, but we’ll be back,” Holloway said. “We’re going through a few changes that you have to [go through].”

Getting to the Game

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