Last year, we looked at Tennessee's depth chart by class and its consequent recruiting needs just prior to National Signing Day. You really ought to give in to the temptation of the link and go take a quick look at that because it's . . . illuminating . . . to realize just how much and how quickly things can change. For those too lazy or busy to click the link, just know that at this time last year the two quarterbacks on Tennessee's roster were senior Nick Stephens and junior Nick Lamaison. Behind junior Tauren Poole, the Vols' stable of running backs consisted of sophomores David Oku, Bryce Brown, and Toney Williams. With the exception of Poole, it's a regular Who's Who of Where'd They Go?
We're going to take a similar look this year, but to give us a bit more time to digest it all, I thought we'd look at each major unit individually and do it about a week earlier. Today, we'll look at the offense. Tomorrow and Wednesday, we'll look at the defense and special teams, and the rest of the week, we'll try to tie it all together into something pretty.
First, the offensive depth chart by class:
|QB||Matt Simms (11/8)||Chris Cates (0/0)||Myles McKee(0/0); Tyler Page (0/0); Doak Raulston (0/0)(9/5);||Nash Nance (0/0); Justin Worley (0/0)|
|RB||Tauren Poole (38/13)||Rajion Neal (10/0); Toney Williams (3/0); Dorian Cozart (0/0); Deanthoine Summerhill (0/0); Jaron Toney (0/0)|
|FB||Sam Edgmon (11/0)||Channing Fugate (13/5)|
|WR||Chris Eggert (0/0); Cory Eichholtz (0/0)||Zach Rogers (24/3); Tyler Drummer (0/0); DeMario Williams (0/0)||Justin Hunter (13/2); Matt Milton (4/0); Jacob Carter (0/0)|
|WR||Jeremy Curtis (0/0); Dylan West (0/0)(13/0);|
|TE||Mychal Rivera (13/0); Ben Lehning (1/0)||Ben Bartholomew (7/0); Matt Wegzyn (0/0)||Dakota Summers (0/0)|
|OL||(13/13)||Marques Pair (0/0)|
|OL||(26/13)||Zach Fulton (11/5); Caleb Leonard (1/0); Chase Phillips (0/0)|
|OL||Cody Pope (6/2)||(10/6)||Jacob Gilliam (0/0); Travis James (0/0)|
|OL||Carson Anderson (7/0)||JerQuari Schofield (7/5); Kevin Revis (1/0);(12/8);|
|OL||Daniel Hood (6/0)|
|Projected starters in bold. Returning starters in italics. Numbers in parentheses are games/starts.|
QBs. As I said,we were looking squarely at two QBs on the roster last year, Nick Stephens and Nick Lamaison. Stephens had a bit of "experience," meaning he wore the engineer's hat for some part of the 2008 season-long train wreck. We never saw either one of those guys in 2010.
This year, though, we're almost certain about who's going to be the QB in the fall, and, for a delightful new wrinkle, no one is dreading it. Sophomore Tyler Bray brings 9 games of playing and 5 games of starting experience, and Matt Simms has enough experience (11 games and 8 starts) to legitimately challenge for the job and keep Bray honest and working hard to keep the starting spot. Add to that that we have Nash Nance safely tucked away on the shelf, and we're better off at QB than we've been in a long time. Serious question: How long has it been since Vol fans knew who the next season's quarterback was going to be?
RBs. Thank goodness for Tauren Poole. The senior with 38 games of experience and all 13 starts last season simply outlasted the two blue chip running backs in Bryce Brown and David Oku fans were so excited about. Sophomore Raijon Neal is clearly the backup, and Toney Williams has some game experience, but you'd really like to see a bit more proven talent and depth at this position. We're still a long way from Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, you know?
FBs. Channing Fugate quietly took the fullback position away from senior Kevin Cooper this season and earned himself 13 games and 5 starts worth of experience in the process. Nothing against Sam Edgmon, of course, but we could use another body here, too.
WR. We will likely miss senior leaders and clutch producers Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones, but you have to be excited about Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, who, although freshmen on a senior-laden unit, still combined for 26 games and 2 starts of experience in 2010. Matt Milton also saw some action, and don't forget about Zach Rogers, who also has some experience to draw on in his battle against obscurity in 2011.
TEs. Mychal Rivera quietly had a solid season, seeing action in all 13 games in relief of Luke Stocker. Ben Bartholomew has some experience behind Rivera, but the team could likely use another guy here.
OL. Last year, we were looking at a total of 13 starts among five positions along the offensive line, 10 of which came from a single freshman who soon thereafter quit the team. In 2011, we're hoping to see major improvement from a bunch of guys who were refined by the fire into which they were thrown in 2010. Three starts of experience last year has turned into 52 starts this year. Ja'Wuan James and Dallas Thomas started all 13 games. Darin Gooch started six and played ten after Cody Pope went out with a season-long stinger. James Stone, JerQuari Schofield, and Zach Fulton have a earned a combined 30 games and 18 starts of experience.
Conclusion: Heading into National Signing Day, Tennessee is better off at QB and OL than it was this time last year. They're arguably in roughly the same position at FB and WR, and they're probably worse off than last year at RB, at least from a depth standpoint. You could also argue with a straight face that they're actually worse off at WR with the departure of Jones and Moore.
Regardless of all of the relative comparisons, though, the team is still wickedly short on depth, so I'm going to conclude that the greatest position of need is ALL OF THEM. Some weak positions have improved, but they can still be upgraded and depth can still be built. Some units have suffered a hit from the departure of talented players, and while UT has some possibly even better talent coming up behind them, they are young, and, like I said, depth can still be an issue. Overall, though, as a fan, you have to like where the team is compared to where it was this time last year, and a solid recruiting class meeting needs and building depth can be a significant step toward bringing this program back to where it needs to be.