Hosting duties for The Big Orange Roundtable make their way to us this week, as we again collaborate with the best of the Tennessee blogs in answering questions leading up to kickoff. I'll be asking the questions this week, and you can check back at this post over the next seven days for responses from across the Vol blogosphere. And as always, we encourage your responses as well in the comments - we'll wrap up everyone's thoughts on Sunday.
1. Which newcomer do you expect to play the most total snaps for the Vols this fall?
...which is a backwards way of asking which freshmen will have the greatest opportunity to make an impact.
Bryce Brown led the league in hype coming in. And we've also heard a lot of promising things about David Oku and Nu'Keese Richardson. There's a ton of talent in the secondary.
But I think the most important newcomer for the 2009 Vols is going to be Montori Hughes.
Tennessee is thin at defensive tackle, though they recently helped themselves by moving Rae Sykes inside. There's plenty of experience at one starting slot with senior Dan Williams, and Wes Brown has plenty of experience on the line at end.
But Wes Brown also has terrible knee problems, and even if he adjusts incredibly well to defensive tackle, I'm afraid his body only has so many snaps left in it. That creates a void that Hughes filled well in spring practice, and should continue to get a chance to fill in significant action this fall. The freshman offensive skill players will get their opportunities, but there are also other guys who can make an impact at RB and WR who have been there before. Behind Brown and Williams at DT there's nothing but opportunity, and I think Montori could take Brown's spot in the starting lineup, either by necessity or by talent, before the season is over. If Tennessee's defensive line is going to be special the way lots of people hope they will between Williams in the middle and the Chris Walker/Gerald Williams/Ben "don't forget about me" Martin rotation at end, the Vols need Hughes to step up and be the last piece of the puzzle. I think he'll end up being the freshman that plays the most number of snaps for us this year.
The rest of the questions after the jump...
2. Assuming we all believe Gerald Jones is going to lead the team in receptions again this season, who will finish second?
I continue to be an unapologetic believer in Brandon Warren. Again, the freshmen will get their opportunities...but now that BW has a clearly defined role to go along with a year's worth of experience with Jonathan Crompton that Nu'Keese and Marsalis Teague don't have, I think he has a chance to become a solid secondary target. I'm not sure anyone is going to put up huge numbers in the 2009 version of this offense, and if Denarius Moore was 100% I would've seriously considered him...but while Nu'Keese and Teague may make more big plays, I think Warren is going to end up with better numbers at season's end.
3. If Tim Tebow and Eric Berry are the two best players in the SEC, who's third?
I'm sure a lot of people will gravitate towards Jevan Snead here, given our current situation at quarterback.
But all things being equal, I'd go for Terrence Cody.
When you're 6'5" 365, got banged up and still turned in the sort of behind-the-line-of-scrimmage play that Cody did for Alabama last year...well, I'd love to have that guy. Back when the Vols enjoyed John Henderson and Al Haynesworth together in the middle in 2001, teams simply didn't run on us. They couldn't. In Alabama's 3-4 scheme, Cody is big enough by himself to clog up the middle, take on double and triple teams, and still be a force in the other team's backfield. He's a defensive tackle you have to scheme around, and that's rare. Outside of Tebow, I think he's the most unique talent in the conference - except for Eric Berry, who I'm sure would win this poll if any other team was asking the question - and I'd love to have him in the middle of my d-line.
4. Generally speaking, which opposing SEC fanbase is your favorite to interact with? And which is your least favorite?
I generally don't mind Auburn fans at all. I think there's a mutual respect for our traditions and history, I know there's a mutual hatred for Alabama, and I think after last year we understand each other better than any other two teams in the conference. And part of it too is that I miss the rivalry we had with them, which adds nostalgia to the mix.
I can say without hesitation that the fanbase I've traded the most amount of venom with is Georgia's. One of my favorite analogies used to be that the Bulldogs were the little kid at the adult table: most would agree that the SEC is traditionally split into a lower (Arkansas, Kentucky, the Mississippis, South Carolina and Vanderbilt) and upper (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee) echelon. Of the second group, four have won at least one National Championship since expansion in 1992, and Auburn has had undefeated seasons with no titles to show for them. Until Mark Richt showed up, Georgia wanted so badly to belong in that second group, but in the new era of SEC Football lacked the credentials to truly belong. And since they still haven't won the big prize, I'm sure there are still some areas they're shut out of.
When the rivalry went from a decade of Tennessee domination to four straight wins for Georgia, it was one of the most frustrating runs I've experienced as a Tennessee fan. To have a team go from slave to master like that is incredibly rare, and as such UGA fans loved it, and Vol fans hated it.
So when Tennessee upset Georgia in 2004, and then especially when the Vols put the dual beatdowns on the Dawgs in '06 and '07, I think our fans wanted the "rivalry" to return to its previous state. But instead, we've found ourselves no longer needing those quotation marks.
I have more respect for Alabama than any other team in the conference, and frankly the Vols haven't been successful enough against Florida for me to engage in the same conversations I've had with Georgia fans. For these and maybe other reasons that I'm unaware of, it seems like Georgia fans are the ones that raise my blood pressure the fastest...especially when that joke about the kids at the adult table could be used on us this time around.
Check back here throughout the week for responses from the rest of the Big Orange Roundtable:
- Bleeding Orange
- Gate 21
- Losers With Socks
- MoonDog Sports
- Pigskin Pathos
- Third Saturday in Blogtober
- Vol Junkies