By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: It wasn't too long ago that Tennessee was a perennial contender for the SEC title and even the national championship. Clearly,
however, the Vols have taken an uncomfortable slide backwards toward
mediocrity in recent years, and it has been a tough pill to swallow for the
"It's certainly been a tough couple of years for our fans," says Derek Dooley,
the new head coach of the Vols. "This is a group of fans that are used to
winning and they're also used to stability."
Dooley hopes to be at Tennessee for a long time, much like former Vols' great
Phil Fulmer. The new leader of the program has been brought in to replace Lane
Kiffin, who left Tennessee after only one season to take over for Pete Carroll
Kiffin's 2009 Vols opened with a 63-7 romp over Western Kentucky, but the club
got a quick dose of reality with losses the following two weeks to UCLA and
Florida. Tennessee then rotated wins and losses over the next five games and
stood at 4-4 with four regular-season tilts remaining. The schedule was a bit
soft over that final month, and the Vols took advantage, posting a 3-1 record
to earn themselves a berth in the Chik-fil-A Bowl against Virginia Tech.
Unfortunately, Tennessee was clearly overmatched in that contest, and the
result was a 37-14 loss on New Year's Eve.
The offseason consisted of a combination of fans burning anything featuring
Kiffin's name or likeness and Dooley working hard to get things on track for
OFFENSE: "I would say I'm a little bit of the traditional pro-style mode, if
you will," said Dooley when asked to describe his offensive philosophy. "I
know you have to run the football to be successful on offense, but I also know
you have to be multiple. In today's game, to win, you really have to be good
In the opener against Tennessee-Martin on September 4th, expect Matt Simms to
be under center for the Vols. The junior is the son of former NFL standout
Phil Simms, so he certainly has the pedigree. What he doesn't have, however,
is an ounce of SEC experience, as he will face a major leap in competition
level after making the jump from junior college. Fortunately, he will have a
couple of talented seniors to throw the ball to in Denarius Moore and Gerald
Jones. Last season, Jones tallied 46 catches for 680 yards and four
touchdowns. Still, the most heralded pass-catcher on the roster may be tight
end Luke Stocker, who is on the radar of every NFL scout.
The Tennessee offensive line has plenty of size and talent, and while the
group is still a bit green, many of the 2010 projected starters earned
valuable playing time down the stretch a year ago.
DEFENSE: Tennessee suffered a major blow when senior defensive end Ben Walker
suffered an Achilles injury in camp. He may miss the season, and his
production and leadership will be hard to replace. Chris Walker, the team's
other senior defensive end, had surgery in the offseason, but he should be
good to go by the opener. Overall, the defensive line is rather small, but
that certainly doesn't apply to sophomore Montori Hughes, who checks in at 317
There isn't much to get excited about when discussing the Tennessee
linebackers. Sure, the group is solid, and Chris Walker returns six sacks and
two interceptions to the fold. But he is surrounded by players who are much
more steady that spectacular.
The man who will be missed the most on the defensive side of the ball for
Tennessee will be Eric Berry, the all-world safety who was snatched up early
in the NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. No senior will start in the
defensive backfield, and its best player may prove to be sophomore strong
safety Janzen Jackson. Art Evans is a junior corner who has gained valuable
experience in the past and will likely cover the opposition's best receiver.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Dooley was an accomplished special teams coach before becoming
a head coach, so he takes the kicking game seriously. Senior placekicker
Daniel Lincoln and senior punter Chad Cunningham have the ability and
experience to excel, but talented freshman Michael Palardy is a threat to jump
into either of the two positions should either incumbent struggle.
OUTLOOK: It is hard to get too excited about the 2010 Tennessee squad, as the
team has few returning starters and a new coaching staff. No one knows what to
expect from Simms under center, and there isn't a dynamic tailback in place.
Overall, this team lacks playmakers, and while Dooley seems capable of
resurrecting the proud program, it will most certainly take a few years to
build a true contender.