- 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?
Archive for the 'Players' Category
I’ve done two other posts already this morning, so this will have to be a true hurry up:
- Message to the two readers that have voted in the current poll by saying that the Vols will go 12-0 over the regular season this year: I want some of what you’re having.
- Scout.com has a nice article on Bo Hardegree, who’s been tearing it up. He’s gone 15 of 17 over the past two scrimmages with four touchdowns and one interception. More TDs than incompletions is pretty good, even if it is against third-stringers.
- Stanley Asumnu finally got his scholarship. I’d pay a semester’s worth of tuition for a couple of blocked field goals, wouldn’t you?
- Finally, receiver Quintin Hancock is making some noise. Hancock’s posted six receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns over the past two scrimmages. Again, pretty good, even if it is against third-teamers.
All for now. Don’t miss the two posts immediately below, one on College Football Resource’s take on the Tennessee-Cal game and a preview of the Volunteer wide receiver unit.
College Football Resource has posted a preview of the Tennessee-Cal game that has some Vol fans up in arms. CFR touches a nerve by describing UT’s 1998 national championship as “ill-gotten” and directly attributable to Clint Stoerner and Marcus Outzen. As I reminded everyone again a couple of days ago, Billy Ratliff actually forced Stoerner’s fumble — it was not an accident. As for Marcus Outzen, well it certainly helped that the Seminoles were starting a third string quarterback, but remember that before the game, everyone was still picking FSU.
CFR points out that Arian Foster’s five 100-yard games came against South Carolina, Notre Dame, Memphis, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. True, but take a look at the Alabama tape and get back to me.
All in all, CFR appears to simply know more about Cal than he does about Tennessee, and for that we can give him a break. But we shouldn’t give him a pass.
Tennessee fans have been expecting great things from the receiving corps, and a return to the status of the school as “Wide Receiver U,” since at least 2003, when the Vols landed a trio of highly touted receivers. Robert Meachem brought his lofty 5-star status to campus, and Bret Smith and Jayson Swain were hauling four stars a piece.
Each was the prototypical receiver: tall (6-3, 6-3, and 6-1, respectively), fast (4.4, 4.5, and 4.5, respectively), and chiseled. I, like most fans I’m sure, am haunted by the whispery voice of Bob Davie, who during the 2005 LSU game made the same exclamation every time a receiver would touch the ball, regardless of whether they caught it or not: “This group of receivers for Tennessee is one of the most talented in the country!”
Well, maybe, if talent was measured in inches, body fat percentages, and 40 times. But when it came to actually getting open, catching the ball, and making big plays, most Vol fans will tell you that the receivers have not yet lived up to their potential. Take, for instance, The Season of Which We Do Not Speak: In 2005, Meachem led all receivers with 29 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns. Smith had 21 receptions for 223 yards and three TDs. Swain caught the ball 27 times for 380 yards and no scores. The trio have combined for a total of 15 touchdowns over the past three years. Contrast that with, say, South Carolina’s Sydney Rice, who caught 58 passes for 952 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman just last year.
Okay, so the numbers are not exactly what we’d hoped for. So what’s the problem?
Was it the dreaded quarterback rotation? Receiver C.J. Fayton said as much after graduating last year. Or was it the too-deep receiver rotation? The idea was that if they rotated eight or nine guys throughout the games, they’d tire out the defensive backs. Didn’t happen. Maybe it was the position coach, who was canned after the last nail in the coffin of the 2005 season was hammered flush to the wood.
Those three potential factors have been eliminated. Gone (hopefully!) is the indecision about the starting QB. Ainge is our guy. Gone is the 85-deep receiver rotation, which has been replaced with a five-deep unit. Gone is former position coach Pat Washington. Coach Trooper Taylor, who had coached up an under-achieving stable of running backs over the past couple of seasons, has been reassigned to the receiving unit, and he aims to repeat the feat with his new group of guys.
|Coach Trooper Taylor|
Taylor went to work right away, whittling the rotation down to just a handful of guys who will get the bulk of the snaps. Up-downs followed all dropped passes. Receivers had to catch 100 projectiles per day over the summer, whether they were footballs, tennis balls, or . . . bricks. They were actually catching bricks, which, I guess, would teach you to catch with your hands and not drop what was thrown to you.
|If you can catch a brick, you can catch anything.|
Anyway, they’ve also been digging batteries and coins out of buckets full of rice to improve grip strength, and they’re focusing on being aggressive on downfield blocks.
Taylor’s got them hopping, and word is that they’re starting to make plays in the scrimmages. The last scrimmage featured several big plays – 37, 30, 37, 39, 65 and 24 yards – an almost astounding feet considering the unit only had two plays of 40 or more yards during the Season of Which We Do Not Speak. Meachem apparently caught a bullet (I believe that’s an analogy, but you can’t really be sure, now can you?) from Ainge for a touchdown at last Saturday’s scrimmage. Swain reportedly looks leaner and quicker and is making strong play after strong play.
Meachem, Smith, and Swain appear to have the starting spots locked down. Behind them are sophomores Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe, and Austin Rogers. Lucas Taylor appears to be a real playmaker, and Rogers and Briscoe got some playing time last year and appear solid, except that Briscoe had a tough scrimmage last weekend. Don’t count out true freshman Quintin Hancock, who apparently is making some noise at practices and scrimmages.
Tight ends Chris Brown and brothers Brad and Jeff Cottam figure to be utilized a bit more in David Cutcliffe’s offense as receivers than tight ends have been over the last couple of years.
Best-case scenario: One of Meachem, Smith, and Swain goes on a tear and begins to dominate any single person who tries to cover him, which requires defenses to adjust to that receiver’s side thereby softening up the coverage on the other two. Ainge spreads the wealth, and the three starters each finish the season with 1,000 yards, beating the total of their last three seasons combined. The reserves chip in another 100 yards each.
Worst-case scenario: Coach Cutcliffe, in a bold attempt to stretch the field, calls six consecutive deep outs to begin the season, all of which are either dropped, overthrown, or intercepted. On the third offensive series, the corners and safeties realize that they no longer need to cover receivers, and the team puts 11 in the box to stop Arian Foster.
Best guess: Two of the three starters will improve significantly but not dramatically, increasing their output over last year by 50%. The third, probably Smith, will lose his starting position to one of the three reserves, probably Lucas Taylor. 2,800 yards passing for the season among the unit.
Rocky Top round up: Coker more and less elusive, Fellows out for season, Ainge’s decision-making improvedFriday, August 18th, 2006
Defensive back Roshaun Fellows is scheduling surgery today for a torn pectoral muscle and will miss the entire season.
Running back LaMarcus Coker, whose off-season workout regimen in high school consisted of running track, is all about the weight room now. He’s apparently much stronger, tougher, and more mature now than in the past, and still just as fast. GoVolsXtra.com’s Dave Hooker observes that in prior seasons, Coker was as elusive in the weight room as he was on the field. Nice hook, Hook.
Scout.com sort of turns the tables on the Erik Ainge question, offering the flip side to all of the criticism aimed at Ainge after he threw two interceptions during last Saturday’s all-live scrimmage. They pointed out that he actually made quite a few good decisions as well, often dumping the ball off for short gains to running backs or tight ends rather then forcing a pass downfield. Decent point.
All for now.
The Upside. In an offense full of question marks, Tennessee coaches have to feel the least uncomfortable with the running back position. After Gerald Riggs went down with a season-ending injury against Alabama last year, most of the carries went to freshman Arian Foster. Foster, who caught former offensive coordinator Randy Sanders’ eye while playing in a high school game despite the fact that Reggie Bush was playing for the opposing team, finished the season as the starter and averaged 148.4 yards per game. He had 223 yards against Vanderbilt, and despite only starting five games, he finished the season with 879 yards.
You might be thinking, well, okay, but the last five games in which Foster started were against South Carolina, Notre Dame, Memphis, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. Not exactly powerhouse defenses. One need only go back and look at the Alabama game, however, to be convinced that he can do it against teams with a quality defense as well. Foster split time with Gerald Riggs almost the entire game against the Tide and carried the ball 14 times for 56 yards for an average of 3.8 yards.
Competing for the No. 2 running back spot are Montario Hardesty and LaMarcus Coker. Hardesty, a 6-0, 205-pound back from New Bern, North Carolina, appeared to be ahead of Foster early last fall. Coker, a highly-touted recruit is a shifty one with great speed. Also in the mix are Ja’Kouri Williams, David Yancey, and Ricardo Kemp.
Senior Cory Anderson (6-3, 255) is a lock for the starting fullback position and should see some more action as new offensive coordinator adds some wrinkles to the Volunteer offense.
Anderson had an impressive sophomore season, but struggled a bit last year. Anderson’s backup is 6-1, 250-pound David Holbert.
The Downside. The Volunteers almost lost as many running backs to injury last year as they lost games. Hardesty tore an ACL in the fourth game against Ole Miss and was still rehabbing in the spring. He had a less serious injury to his other knee during spring practice. One of his knees then buckled during one this fall’s scrimmages, and although he initially though it was fine, the latest word is that they’re evaluating some unanticipated swelling.
After Riggs’ season-ending injury in October, Williams underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-November. In December, both Foster and Coker went under the knife. Foster had both knee and shoulder surgery in the off season, and Coker had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his shoulder.
Foster, Hardesty, Coker, and Williams all missed all or most of spring practice. Foster did not go home to San Diego this summer, instead electing to stay on campus and focus on rehabbing his two surgeries and getting himself into condition. He is apparently a leaner, quicker, stronger version of the back we saw last year.
Fumbles were a grave concern last year, as the Vols lost two games by a total of four points due to three fumbles inside the ten-yard line. It is still unclear whether this tendency has been fixed, as the first all-live scrimmage this fall featured two fumbles, one by Foster and one by Yancey.
Best-case scenario: Run,
Forest Foster, run! Arian Foster averages 150 yards per game on his way to a 2,000+ yard season and fumbles only twice, both times on the right side of the field. He begins to get some Heisman attention mid-season. Coker and/or Hardesty contribute another few hundred yards each. Opposing linebackers wet their pants when they see Anderson coming at them full-speed. The team runs the ball with such efficiency that all pressure on Erik Ainge is relieved, and Ainge regains his confidence.
Worst-case scenario: All three primary backs tear a total of six ACLs in the first game against California, and the team turns to Ainge to bail them out.
Best guess: One of the running backs does not make it back into the mix, probably Hardesty. Foster shoulders the load and averages 120+ yards per game, with Coker adding another 30+ yards per game. When one is nursing injuries, the other is available. Should be the strength of the team this year, provided the offensive line comes around.
The Volunteers apparently followed up their less-than-impressive all-live scrimmage on Saturday with a decent practice yesterday. A couple of quick notes:
- Jacques McClendon “got better.”
- Fulmer says “it’s good to see LaMarcus Coker doing what he’s doing.”
- Safety Antonio Wardlow is pushing for more playing time.
- Ellix Wilson got a bit banged up, but should be fine.
- Running back Arian Foster, who fumbled during Saturday’s scrimmage, carried a football with him to church on Sunday.
I told you that would be quick.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor is telling Robert Meachem to just calm down and have fun. The same article reports that the Vols followed up a decent Tuesday night scrimmage with what Meachem called a poor, “5-6 practice.”
Coach Taylor says he has some players on special teams that are S.O.S.:
S.O.S., that’s Stuck On Stupid,” Taylor said. “That means you’re doing the same thing over and over again. I refuse to play a player who is stuck on stupid.
Montario Hardesty’s knee is fine. If you hadn’t heard yet, there was a question about whether he’d re-injured it in Tuesday night’s scrimmage. His surgically repaired knee buckled when he made a cut. He initially feared the worst, but quickly realized it was fine. Word is that Arian Foster and LaMarcus Coker are looking good coming off their injuries.