(In which we totally ignore Tyler Bray's 5 for 30 "Jonathan Crompton was never that bad" performance and do not allow our optimism to be diminished...)
...seriously, let's talk about all the ways Bray was negatively affected. Starting with the weather - this was only the spring game if you watched from the comfort of your homes. For those of us in the stadium it was without question the winter game; thanks to all the weathermen and weatherwomen who called for temps in the 60s. That might have been the windiest (most windy?) day in the history of Neyland Stadium.
You want more excuses? Don't draft all the skill players and none of the linemen. Don't ask the number one QB to make the number three, five, and who knows wide receivers look good, and thus don't chastise him when he looks to Justin Hunter on every play. And don't separate him from Jim Chaney, ever again. When Tyler Bray wins the Heisman, he will mention this day in his speech.
We'll get to a few more serious observations after the jump, but the end of spring practice - 20 Saturdays from the real thing - is a good time to ask you what you think of this team. There's plenty of time between now and September 3 to talk yourselves into the Vols - I'll be leading the way as usual. But coming out of spring practice, how do you feel about Tennessee right now?Here's the official post-spring depth chart from KNS, to which we'll be referring below...
- You have to feel better about the offensive line than you did last year. Alex Bullard showed up as a question mark and left spring as the biggest surprise on that side of the ball. Marcus Jackson came in and competed right away. This feels like a line with seven guys who can play, creating competition instead of the safety risk from last year or even the smoke and mirrors from 2009. Dooley has mentioned the difference between size and strength - this line will look good coming off the bus, but can still get stronger this summer. Every pound helps with the running game.
- The Vols were, to my recollection, exclusively a shotgun and I-form team in the spring game. That may not mean much of anything when real football shows up, but I continue to wonder what kind of looks Tauren Poole and Rajion Neal are going to get. Once Bray stepped in last fall, the vast majority of Tennessee's offensive snaps came from the gun, and the vast majority of Poole's yards came against tired defenses on one or two big runs late in the game. Will we be a shotgun-dominant team? Makes a difference in recruiting running backs, I'd imagine, and I can't name anybody who played that position for Purdue while Chaney was there...stay tuned.
- When Matt Milton and Justin Hunter lined up wide with Bray out there, the Vols looked like an NFL team. That's why it's so frustrating that Milton can't catch the ball well enough to crack the two-deep at WR: you'll find Zach Rogers and Vincent Dallas (#6) currently occupying the backup roles, which also suggests that opportunity awaits DeAnthony Arnett when he arrives.
- Other places where opportunity may await: defensive tackle (Maurice Couch over Daniel Hood?) and corner. If Janzen Jackson returns then Prentiss Waggner will slide over and probably start next to Marsalis Teague. But right now, Justin Coleman (#27) is listed as a 1B starter alongside Anthony Anderson at the other corner. Coleman does not look like a freshman in stature or in play: really liked the goal line series at the end of the first half where everybody knew Bray was going to throw the jump ball to Hunter, and Coleman stopped it twice anyway. Plenty of opposing DBs didn't stop that play last year. Despite the DB talent that will arrive here this summer, I think Coleman is going to see meaningful action as a mainstay in either the nickel or dime package right away.
- Finally, more respect for Eric Berry, who showed up in the south end zone tunnel just to our left and signed autographs with a smile for at least thirty minutes. I know he's locked out at the moment, but he's still an NFL Pro Bowl millionaire who didn't have to be there. But he certainly appeared to be the same old EB, becoming the best part of the day for several kids.