Archive for the 'Coaches' Category

Rocky top hurry up: Waiting for ends to emerge, Arian Foster, and game captains

Friday, August 25th, 2006
  • Coaches are still waiting for a star to emerge at defensive end. Candidates include juniors Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Wardlow, sophomore Robert Ayers, junior-college transfer Walter Fisher, and redshirt freshman Wes Brown. Among them they have a total of zero starts for UT. It’s looking like Ayers and defensive tackle Turk McBride will start at the ends against California.
  • More stuff you never knew, this time about the Florida Gators, courtesy of Fulmer’s Belly.
  • If you haven’t visited in awhile, go check out the SportsAnimal’s interview page. Lots of good stuff there, including an interview with Arian Foster. One excerpt:

    Q: You averaged almost 150 yards in your five starts, would that be pretty unrealistic to try to do that for an entire season?

    A: [Pregnant pause.] Shhhh . . . um . . . I don’t . . . I don’t . . . I really don’t think so. Well, depending on the amount of carries that coach Cutcliffe and the staff allow me to get, I believe I can go out and play this game the way it’s supposed to be played.

    Excellent answer with just the right mixture of confidence and humility.

  • GoVolsXtra.com’s John Adams analyzes the impact of various scenarios of the 2006 season on coach Fulmer’s job security.
  • The Vols are apparently going with game captains this season instead of naming them now for an entire season. I like the let’s-change-all-the-little-things attitude the coaches are using to distinguish this season from last season, but I don’t know about this one. Any thoughts?

Two-minute drill: Vols’ report card, AP poll out, Dawg Sports’ feasting on the flesh of the enemy

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Here’s the hurry up offense for this morning:

  • Mr. Numb Existence presides over a bench trial in the case of BlogPoll v. Mr. Bold and finds him guilty of one count of Malicious Intent, one count of Cattle Rustling, and two counts of False Advertising, but acquits him of two counts of SEC Fraud, three counts of Conspiracy, and one Cardinal Sin.
  • GoVolsXtra.com’s Mike Griffith grades the Vols on this weekend’s scrimmage. The QBs get a B this time, and Griffith notes that while Ainge made better decisions, he “needs to develop a better pocket presence or he’s going to get hurt.” Crompton apparently has a better knack for feeling the pressure. Griffith gives the running backs an A- and says Foster “looks poetic gliding and changing speeds in the open field,” that Montario Hardesty “hits holes quicker,” and that “LeMarcus Coker is electrifying . . . .” Overall, the team received a B.
  • The AP Poll just came out, and the Volunteers are No. 23.
  • Kyle at DawgSports has a comprehensive Florida preview up. Don’t miss the “feasting on the flesh of the enemy” portion of the piece.
  • College Football News says that the extent of David Cutcliffe’s impact on the Volunteers is No. 12 on the list of questions that will impact the 2006 season. The top question, according to CFN, is whether Texas can repeat with a freshman quarterback. By the way, in its quick picks piece, CFN likes Cal over Tennessee (23-14) and Florida over Tennessee by three, but likes the Vols over both LSU (24-20) and Georgia (16-13). They’re figuring that Tennessee will find itself, but not until mid-season.
  • SI.com sends a postcard from Tennessee’s fall camp.
  • If you missed it last week, CBS Sportsline says the SEC East is the toughest division on the nation. No kidding.

Coach Fulmer is “kind of excited”

Friday, August 18th, 2006

The Vols finished up the last of two-a-days yesterday with some scrimmage work in preparation of another full scrimmage Saturday. UTSports.com has practice pics and video.

Don’t miss the video interview with coach Fulmer, during which he fails, for one very brief moment, to contain his entusiasm. “Blah, blah, blah . . . blah, blah,” and then, out of nowhere, a bounce, a smile, and a “I’m . . . kind of excited.” At least that’s what I think he said. Then it was back to blah.

Heisman Pundit questions David Cutcliffe’s reputation

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Heisman Pundit is questioning the reputation of David Cutcliffe. An excerpt:

[Is] Cutcliffe’s quarterback pedigree really that special? He gets credit for the Mannings, but both Peyton and Eli were highly-touted recruits and can’t miss prospects who really just needed to be managed properly.

Beyond that, there is Heath Shuler, who was the second pick of the draft based almost solely on his physical skills (he was an NFL bust), and Andy Kelly, who went on to a career in the Arena Football League.

Am I saying Cutcliffe is a bad quarterbacks coach? No. I’m saying that we don’t really know if he is as good as advertised, since even I could probably coach talents like the Mannings to the NFL. He clearly is good at not messing up players who are already on track to be successful. That’s often half the battle. That said, the last quarterback he coached–Ethan Flatt–was flat-out awful.

I don’t think Erik Ainge quite fits the profile of a player with an inevitably bright future.

A couple of thoughts:

  • This analysis conveniently leaves out Tee Martin, who also didn’t exactly “fit[] the profile of a player with an inevitably bright future” and who Cutcliffe coached to a national championship.
  • I don’t know anything about Ethan Flatt, but even if he was “awful,” one failure isn’t necessarily indicative of poor coaching: nobody could teach a lawn chair to play quarterback, for instance.
  • There’s a lot of ground for success or failure between merely not ruining somebody with promise and coaching two No. 1 overall NFL picks and one No. 3 overall NFL pick.
  • If the Mannings were merely “can’t miss prospects who really just needed to be managed properly,” and therefore don’t prove that Cutcliffe is a great coach, then why point out that Heath Shuler was an NFL bust? Essentially, HP is using both the Mannings’ success and Shuler’s failure as evidence against Cutcliffe. And by the way, Shuler couldn’t cut it in the NFL primarily, if not entirely, because of injuries.

Anyway, head on over and give HP the Rocky Top perspective.

Tennessee Volunteer 2006 unit preview: Quarterbacks

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Well, what can be said about the quarterbacks that hasn’t already been said? Very little, but I’m going to mix up the order of the words to make it look brand spanking new.

Erik Ainge drew favorable comparisons to Peyton Manning his freshman year, and for good reason. He completed 109 of 198 passes for 1,452 yards and 17 touchdowns in nine games before a shoulder injury against Notre Dame ended his season. The following year, he got off to a good start, but morphed into a mushroom cloud in the end zone at LSU. The question then became Is There Life After Death Valley for Erik Ainge? By the Notre Dame game, the early returns suggested, well, maybe not.

Enter Ahead-to-the-Past offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, sensei to the likes of No. 1 NFL draft picks Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, No. 3 NFL draft pick Heath Shuler, and National Championship QB Tee Martin. Job One for Cut is the Reanimation of Erik Ainge Project.

Erik Ainge

The jury is still out after the first all-live scrimmage, during which Ainge went 13 of 26 for 120 yards, with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Worse than the raw numbers, Ainge displayed some of the same pocket panic that we saw last year, even throwing a sure interception (it was actually dropped by the defender) off his back foot from his own end zone. Cut was “surprised,” and said such a play was unacceptable.

He did not, however, water the blooming controversy. “We are not shaking up or changing anything at this stage based on one scrimmage,” said Cutcliffe. “I evaluate every one of them every day. I grade every practice. They are all held accountable to perform.”

Cutcliffe didn’t, however, completely rule out the possibility of a change. “We are going to keep competition at all positions, including quarterback,” said Cutcliffe. “[Ainge] has to play better than he played from a mistake standpoint. I am sure he is disappointed. He is doing many things well.”

The offensive coaching staff is doing its best to both develop 2nd string QB Jonathan Crompton, a Parade All-American, and ignore the fact that he is nipping at Ainge’s heels. Crompton finished Saturday’s scrimmage 7 of 13 for 97 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. According to Cutcliffe, Crompton is “transferring what I’m telling him and verbalizing it in the huddle and not getting frozen.”

Jonathan Crompton

Junior Bo Hardegree is nipping at Ainge’s other heel, and waiting in the wings is true freshman Nick Stephens, who passed for 2,602 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior at Flower Mound, Texas last year.

Bo Hardegree

Best Case Scenario: Erik Ainge improves decision-making under duress and efficiently manages the offense, occasionally hitting big-time, long-distance pass plays, and racking up big early leads that enable Crompton to get healthy portions of game experience.

Worst Case Scenario: Ainge barely holds on to the starting position, hording all of the first string practice reps, through the first game against Cal where he throws an interception from his own end zone for a touchdown while in the arms of a defender and gets yanked for good. Crompton, thrown into the fire without the benefit of any real practice reps struggles and thereafter splits time equally under center with Bo Hardegree, Nick Stephens, Jim Bob Cooter, and defensive tackle Justin Harrell. Tennessee finishes 6-6 or worse, and the University decides to hire Bob Stoops, who brings Rhett Bomar with him.

Best Guess: Cutcliffe will in fact reanimate Ainge and cure him of his poor decision-making under duress by having Ainge take the snap, count to three, and heave the ball into the Tennessee River on thirty consecutive plays (or something like that) to substitute a new panic mechanism for the old one. Ainge will struggle early, fans will holler for Crompton, and Cutcliffe will wisely guide Ainge through the firestorm, molding him into an efficient QB whose game plan consists primarily of handing off to the tailback and throwing short passes.

Tennessee to self-report NCAA violation

Monday, August 14th, 2006

GoVolsXtra is reporting that Tennessee will be self-reporting a minor NCAA violation involving wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor, who apparently “spoke to a group of alumni without following UT’s formal process of approval,” in violation of bylaw 11.3.2.2, which I’m guessing provides as follows:

No scholarship player, coach, or any spouse, child, parent, sibling, cousin, in-law, or neighbor thereof, shall, intentionally or inadvertently, solicit, accept, or suggest the solicitation or acceptance of, any compensation in the form of cash, donations, wages, tips, Chuck E. Cheese tokens, or custom colored crayons, in return for any act or omission directly or indirectly related to his or her relationship with any university, college, trade school, tech school, or day care. Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, NCAA officials and employees shall be entitled to whatever the market demands.

Okay, then.

By the way, freshman Blake Garretson has been dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Catastrophic Change and the Season of Which We Do Not Speak

Sunday, August 13th, 2006

Last week, I capped off two weeks’ worth of discretionary time re-examining the cadaver of the 2005 Tennessee Volunteer football season. Two full weeks of pessimism, criticism, and general negativity.

What was I thinking?

Well, I did it to show why I’m optimistic about the upcoming season. The full explanation is further down the page, but here’s a teaser:

Before I reveal what was going on in the dark recesses of my bothered mind, let’s recap:

A complete and utter flame-out.

What happened? What exactly was the root cause of the disappointing 2005 season? Here’s the lineup of suspects:

Lack of or improper focus

  • Lack of character and/or discipline. From a player using his cell phone during half time of a bowl game several years ago to the rash of arrests and court appearances leading up to the 2005 season, individual and team discipline has declined.
  • Me first. Many UT fans wondered whether running back Jamal Lewis gave the team his all during his last season or whether he was saving himself for the NFL. Receiver Kelley Washington pretty much came right out and said as much by declaring himself “The Future” while still a Tennessee Volunteer.
  • Penalties and errors. Blocked punts, muffed punts, botched fake punts, missed field goals, poor kick and punt coverage, interceptions in end zones, fumbles at critical times, and the list goes on and on.

Conventional wisdom coaching philosophies

  • Tall, fast, and chiseled guys are necessarily good receivers.
  • Rotating eight or nine receivers keeps them fresh, which must be a good thing.
  • Save it for the games. Avoid getting players hurt at all costs by utilizing a plethora of green, no-contact jerseys and by practicing at less than game speed.
  • Bigger is always better on the offensive line.
  • Two QB System? No worries.
  • Special teams, oh yeah, we ought to work on those, too.

Context

  • Embracing the hype. The normally stoic Phillip Fulmer openly embraced the pre-season No. 3 ranking in 2005, wanting to ensure that when they did get through the SEC slate unscathed they would not be denied an opportunity to play for the national championship.
  • The Spotlight Effect. UT, both individually and collectively, generally under perform when expectations are high and over perform when expectations are low.
  • Strength of schedule. Nearly half of Tennessee’s 2005 opponents were ranked in the top five at the time they played them.
  • The demise of home-field advantage.
  • Season-ending injuries to key players.

The Cause: One of the Above

So which of the above factors caused the losing season?

If you said all of the above, you’d be mostly right, but I think there’s an even better answer:

One of the above.

In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell attempts to explain “social epidemics,” or sudden changes from one state to another. In Gladwell’s own words:

The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.

Think, for a moment, about an epidemic of measles in a kindergarten class. One child brings in the virus. It spreads to every other child in the class in a matter of days. And then, within a week or so, it completely dies out and none of the children will ever get measles again. That’s typical behavior for epidemics: they can blow up and then die out really quickly, and even the smallest change — like one child with a virus — can get them started. My argument is that it is also the way that change often happens in the rest of the world. Things can happen all at once, and little changes can make a huge difference.

Okay, so boiled down, the basic premise of the Tipping Point is this: (1) ideas can be as contagious as viruses; (2) like viruses, little things can grow in geometric progressions into big things; and (3) all these little things can lead to a tipping point at which one more little thing causes a great, noticeable change.

Application to the 2005 Season

The Tennessee Volunteer 2005 football season was the culmination of a lot of little things thrown into the cauldron until one more little thing tipped the whole blasted thing over, ending in catastrophe and scattering football helmets all over the end zone.

Sure, a player checking his cell phone for messages during half time of a bowl game is a bit troubling, but it’s just a little thing, right? Or was it a symptom of a social epidemic infecting the football team with the idea that there really wasn’t much of a consequence for a lack of focus? Did such an attitude spread exponentially and lead to a rash of arrests, a passel of players more concerned about the NFL than their current college team, and a host of penalties, fumbles, interceptions, and other errors on the field?

Could a catastrophic change come from a notion so mundane that you can’t even identify its origin? Exactly when did we start thinking that big, tall, fast guys necessarily made excellent receivers or that rotating eight or nine of them during a game in order to wear out the defenders was a good idea? Exactly when did we start thinking that two quarterbacks were better than one or that practicing at less than game speed and dressing key players in green, no-contact jerseys sufficiently prepared the team for actual games? Just when did having the heaviest offensive line in the SEC become the goal?

By 2005, those seemingly small ideas were epidemic within the Tennessee Volunteer football program. And it was not a good time to be sick. The plague-ridden 2005 Volunteers embraced their No. 3 ranking, mostly ignoring the daunting schedule, the recent demise of UT’s home-field advantage, and the team’s vulnerability to the Spotlight Effect. Season-ending injuries to players Jason Allen and Gerald Riggs didn’t help, either.

The 2005 team lost one game due to a special teams debacle. They lost another because of a penalty-plagued field position nightmare. They lost two more by a total of 4 points due to three fumbles inside the ten yard line. Another loss was by 4 points due in part to a failure to convert on 4th and inches within three yards of the goal line.

Little things can lead to catastrophic change.

Especially in a game of inches.

Application to the 2006 Season

So what was I thinking when I decided to poke and prod at the corpse of the 2005 season? I was thinking that if the red plastic Don’t-Spill-the-Beans cauldron can tip one way, it can also tip the other.

Coach Fulmer was ridiculed when he characterized the season as the Perfect Storm. Some media and fans interpreted this statement as an excuse, but I took it more as an explanation, and I never got the feeling that Fulmer was denying responsibility for the outcome.

No, I think Fulmer was reading the Tipping Point. Once 2005 had breathed its last, Fulmer and company were talking about the little things. If you’ve been keeping up with fall practice, reading the articles and listening to interviews, you’re hearing coaches and players talk about “the little things” all of the time. Here’s just a sampling of the little things they’re trying to reclaim:

  • Character/Discipline. This off-season was quiet, relatively speaking anyway, when it came to off the field incidents. When two players got into trouble within days of each other for the first time this summer, Fulmer reportedly went ballistic. He dismissed the player who’d used up his second chances and suspended the other who’d gotten in trouble for the first time in five years with the program. Fulmer later kicked promising young freshman tight end Lee Smith off the team after Smith made the non-sports page twice in one week. He suspended another pending investigation of a stupid incident involving a toy gun on the highway. While it appears the team still has some ground to cover on this front, it does appear to have improved. The coaching staff, at least, is responding differently, and that’s a good sign.
  • Good receivers make good receivers. After having rejuvenated an under-achieving stable of running backs, Trooper Taylor has been assigned to repeat the feat with the receiving corps this year. The receivers are catching 100 balls a day. Footballs, tennis balls, and even some bricks. Yes, bricks. They are not wearing green jerseys. The rotation this year will consist of five receivers instead of eight or nine so that they can better develop chemistry with the quarterback. They are digging batteries out of buckets full of rice to develop grip strength. Word is, it’s all beginning to pay off.
  • Practice. The spring story line earlier this year was that the Vols were re-learning how to practice. Essentially, that meant that they were practicing with tempo at game speed. This theme continues in the fall. Players receive a tongue-lashing if they simply walk the last couple of steps to the next practice drill. Even the quarterbacks have gone live without green jerseys in at least one scrimmage so far this fall practice. The offense is dictating tempo, and special teams is getting the attention it deserves.
  • Big is good, but speed is better on the offensive line. The offensive linemen have lost weight. Lots of it. Chris Scott is the poster boy for the Vols’ weight loss campaign, having lost 60 pounds since last season. All of them have lost at least fifteen pounds. The goal is to better prepare them to get out quickly and block on screens, and the reports are that they are indeed quicker this fall.
  • Fear the Two QB System. Erik Ainge is the starting quarterback. He is getting all of the practice reps with the first team. Even with promising QB Jonathon Crompton pushing him, the coaches are downplaying any hint of a controversy.

The 2006 Volunteers, led by coach Fulmer and the rest of the coaching staff are in the process of focusing on and correcting a myriad of little things. Maybe, just maybe, they can re-infect the team and create an epidemic of positive ideas. If successful, perhaps they can reach another tipping point this season, this time in a positive direction.

Packing it up

And now that the corpse of 2005 has been exhumed, dissected, poked, prodded, and otherwise fully examined, we can now officially slide it into the morgue drawer and forget about it.

The 2005 season shall from this point forward be referred to only as The Season of Which We Do Not Speak.

Fulmer kicks Smith off the team, suspends Johnson four games

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

Just a quick note, GoVolsXtra.com is reporting that coach Fulmer has kicked freshman signee Lee Smith off the team after his arrest for drunk driving this morning and has suspended defensive back Marsalous Johnson four games for pointing a toy gun at an off-duty law enforcement officer on I-40.

Fulmer’s comments:

As for Marsalous, he has been suspended from the football team for the first four games regardless of the outcome of his court appearance for not following my instructions to walk away from any potential trouble. When classes begin (Aug. 23), he will be required to move back into the dorm and return his car to his home as well as performing 50 hours of community service. His practice status on the team will be as a member of the scout team.

Any reinstatement of Marsalous depends on his attitude and demonstration of accountability.

Regarding Lee, I have made the decision that he be dismissed from the football team. I have great respect for the Smith family and for Daryl as a former Volunteer. It is my sincere hope that this will be an opportunity for Lee to mature and get his life in order.

Apparently, some of the facts of Johnson’s situation are in question. He is denying that he pointed the gun at the officer.

This would be getting even more attention if it weren’t for even bigger news out of Oklahoma.

Re-living the Tennessee Volunteers 2005 football season: Part 8, South Carolina Gamecocks

Saturday, July 29th, 2006

Pre-game

By late October, the Tennessee Volunteers had lost to its three biggest rivals. Special teams goofs had cost the team the Florida game. The Georgia loss was directly attributable to a punt coverage breakdown and a slew of penalties resulting in awful field position for most of the game. Against Alabama, the opportunity cost of two fumbles inside the ten and a muffed punt at midfield combined to result in yet another heartbreaking loss.

The Volunteer Nation began its root cause analysis, and everybody had their opinions. Doesn’t winning necessarily follow excellent recruiting classes? Was it just fluke after fluke after fluke? Was it just because four out of six opponents were ranked in the top 5 at the time we played them? Was it the Spotlight Effect? Was it the season-ending injury to Jason Allen?

And what would happen now that Gerald Riggs was out for the season? Was Arian Foster really in the same league as USC’s Reggie Bush?

One thing we did know for sure: when Steve Spurrier returned to Neyland Stadium for the Volunteers’ next game, he’d be bringing his bag of tricks. While the Volunteer offense seemed unlikely to encounter the suspicious powdery substance, the defense might be able to induce Darth Visor to grimaces like never before because this time his Storm Troopers were armored in garnet and black instead of blue and orange.

The game

Rick Clausen’s excellent performance in the LSU game was growing smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, and on this day it would melt completely into the horizon. Clausen got the start, but threw an interception on his first pass of the second offensive series. The Gamecocks capitalized on the mistake with a touchdown three plays later.

Ainge then came in and drove the team 72 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown. On the next offensive possession, a possible touchdown pass to Jayson Swain was ruled out of bounds, but the team did drive 32 yards for a field goal. Arian Foster was running exceptionally well, and the offense appeared to have found its rhythm with Ainge.

Like most good news this season, it was short-lived.

The offense failed to capitalize on two South Carolina fumbles in the first half. When the Gamecocks fumbled on their own 30 yard line, the Vols lost a yard on three plays and then missed a field goal. When SC later fumbled on their own 18, the Tennessee offense drove 18 yards only to fumble inside the one yard line.

Look at the mess on that drive chart on both sides of the ball. Interception. Fumble. Field goal missed. Field goal missed. Safety. Fumble. Fumble. Interception.

The Vols were ahead at the half, both in points and in lost opportunities.

Britton Colquitt put together a pretty nice game with six punts for 226 yards. Three of his punts were inside the five yard line and another was inside the 20. You could convince yourself that Arian Foster also had a good game if you were able to repress the memory of his fumble within a blade of fescue of the goal line. He averaged almost six yards on 25 carries for a total of 150 yards.

In the end, though, Spurrier had worked his mojo against the Vols yet again and strolled of Rocky Top with a 16-15 victory.

Post game

Might Tennessee, who began the season with national championship aspirations, had just lost to the perennial 4th-in-the-SEC-East South Carolina Gamecocks. They had fallen to 3-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC. They were 0-3 in the SEC East, which they had been pre-season favorites to win.

The horror of the loss was captured best by GoVolsXtra’s John Adams:

You can’t comprehend the magnitude of the loss unless you know a little something about the winners.

South Carolina lost by 23 points to Alabama and by 41 to Auburn. It ranks 111th in the country in rushing and 85th in rushing defense.

There’s more.

The Gamecocks start two walk-ons on offense. They lost arguably their best player, wide receiver/quarterback/running back Syvelle Newton, to a season-ending injury last week.

Their injury situation only got worse against the Vols. They lost two more wide receivers — Carlos Thomas and Noah Whiteside — to game-ending injuries in the first half.

With all that stacked against them, the Gamecocks would have to play a mistake-free game to have a chance, right?

Not hardly. They lost two fumbles and threw an interception in the first half. They were penalized 10 times.

And still, UT had lost.

Things had gone from downright Rosy to downright ugly on Rocky Top. Players were beginning to openly fuss at each other on the field. Both quarterbacks were dazed, glassy-eyed, and exasperated. Someone painted “Fire Randy Sanders, please!” on the Rock on the UT campus, echoing the chant by a pocket of fans toward the end of the game. Local radio reported that some fans were throwing objects at the players as they left the field.

Having had an emotional meeting with his family immediately following the game (audio link), Sanders fell on his sword the following Tuesday. He would serve out the rest of the season, but would give up the offensive coordinator role and play calling duties. Players responded to the news with shock and hostility, some engaging in a full-on rant with media microphones recording it all. Many media guys and bloggers could relate, some saying they had the wrong guy or that it was a good start.

Not pretty. Not pretty at all.

And it wasn’t over yet.

Two-minute drill: More SEC Media Days, receivers catching bricks, and behind the scenes with Fulmer’s stinger

Friday, July 28th, 2006

Well, the SEC Media Days has come to an end, I think, and the college sports blogosphere is sorting through the rubble. Here’s a couple of shiny objects that have distinguished themselves from the pile, at least from the VFRT perspective:

Yes, the media placed the Vols third in the SEC East. No big surprise there. Although some are picking the Gators as the team most likely to be this year’s Tennessee, the media likes them first in the East with Georgia close behind. The Volunteers were a distant third at that, garnering just five more votes than South Carolina. Whatever happens in the East, Auburn is the absolute favorite to dominate the West and win the championship game.

There were six Volunteers named to the pre-season media All-SEC team. Offensive lineman Arron Sears and defensive tackle Justin Harrell made the first team, running back Arian Foster, defensive back Jonathan Hefney, and kicker James Wilhoit made second team, and cornerback Jonathan Wade made the third team.

The national media is getting into the action as well. CBS Sportsline’s Dennis Dodd weighs in and says expect a little improvement, but not a lot, after last year’s Rocky Flop.

And the ESPN Insider Blue Ribbon preview of Tennessee is absolutely massive and includes bits of information I had not heard elsewhere, such as the fact that a new wide receiver drill involves catching bricks. That should teach you not to drop the ball and to catch with your hands. There’s also this more detailed description of Fulmer’s animated reaming of the team following Marvin Mitchell’s summer arrest:

Dealing with the law [for Mitchell] was easier than dealing with Fulmer, who had grown accustomed to the peace and tranquility afforded him by months of good behavior among his players. Fulmer went bonkers in a team meeting after Mitchell’s skirmish, screaming, throwing things and threatening to kick the next player who caused trouble off the team. True to his word, Fulmer ran off lineman Raymond Henderson a couple of days later after he made an inappropriate comment to a mother and her young daughter at a restaurant.

I guess he does have his stinger out.