Evaluating the Rebuild: Butch Jones' Task Vs. Derek Dooley's

You have no idea how hard it is to find pictures of players who are likely to still be at Tennessee next year. - Kevin C. Cox

We've heard for three years about the mess that Derek Dooley walked into in 2010. But how does it compare to the situation Butch Jones faces in 2013?

As you may know, Butch Jones has been announced as Tennessee's head coach, and he's already eleven days into his rebuild of the Volunteers football team. But as we enter the recruiting dead period and prepare for the five weeks of mayhem on the other side, it's time to consider the question: what kind of rebuild is he facing? And at Tennessee, we've become used to being told we're in the middle of a rebuild, so we have plenty of basis for comparison. The most natural comparison, of course, is Derek Dooley, who walked into a situation so bad he gave himself a Year Zero. After three years of Dooley stabilizing the roster, how much easier is Jones' task from the one Dooley inherited? Let's find out.

I've listed the two-deep inherited by each coach, as well as my initial impression of who inherited better situations at each position. Further explanation and conclusions will come afterwards.

Position Dooley's Roster Jones' Roster Better Starters Better Depth
QB Simms, Bray Peterman, Worley Jones Dooley (!)
RB Brown, Poole Neal, Lane Dooley Push
WR Jones, Moore, Rogers, Teague Dallas, Howard, Bowles, Carter Dooley (!) Dooley^
TE Stocker, Bartholomew Downs, Croom Dooley Push^
OT D. Thomas, Douglas, James, Hood Richardson, James, Posey, Pair Jones Dooley*
OG Schofield, Shaw, Revis, Anderson Fulton, Jackson, Bullard, Kerbyson Jones (!) Jones*
C Pope, V. Thomas Stone, Crowder Jones Jones*
DE Martin, Walker, G. Williams, Miller Sentimore, Smith, Miller, J. Williams Dooley Push^*
DT Hughes, Walls, Nelson, Fowlkes McCullers, Couch, Walls, O'Brien Jones (!) Jones (!)*
OLB Thompson, Lathers, Vereen, Mitchell-Thornton Maggitt, Bynum, Sapp, Fugate, Dooley Dooley*
ILB Reveiz, Frazier Johnson, Harris Jones Jones^
CB Evans, Gordon, Oliver, Anderson Coleman, Gordon, Gray, Bonner Push Push
S Jackson, Myles, Waggner, Wilks Randolph, Moore, McNeil, Brewer Dooley Push

Key:

(!): extreme advantage in that category

^: A position where Dooley would be expected to replace at least half the two-deep after his first year.

*: A position where Jones will be expected to replace at least half the two-deep after his first year.

Obviously, I've had to make some of my own projections here, both of what the team would look like if next season started today, and of how good some of the players will be. I tried to be even-handed with projecting the youngsters, not assuming they'll be stars but also not assuming they'll be chopped liver. Drae Bowles could be amazing, but I won't assume he'll be better than the combination of Zach Rogers and Marsalis Teague. On the other hand, Nathan Peterman has to be better than Matt Simms, right?

Additionally, no recruits are included in this list. I don't want to get into a debate on whether 2010 recruits are Kiffin's or Dooley's or whether 2013 recruits are Dooley's or Jones'. If they were on campus taking classes when the coach took over, they're on the two-deep. If they weren't, they're still work the new coach needed/needs to do. It's also worth noting that a couple players had or will have to be shifted from their natural position for depth purposes. And that I arbitrarily chose between Corey Miller and Marlon Walls which one will backup end and which will backup tackle. They've both shifted back and forth.

Finally, this assumes that Herman Lathers, Tyler Bray, and Cordarrelle Patterson will not be with the team next year, but that Daniel McCullers will. Obviously, if any of those assumptions are false, it'll make a big difference.

So what conclusions should we draw? Your analysis may be different, and you should feel free to draw your own in the comments, but here's how I see things.

1. It doesn't look like Jones' starting twenty-two are much improved over Dooley's starting twenty-two in 2010. As I've broken it down, Dooley has an advantage at six positions and Jones has an advantage at six positions. Dooley inherited much more skilled backs and receivers, while Jones has a clear edge on the offensive line. On defense, Dooley inherited a defense better on the edges, but Jones' should be better up the middle. However, Jones has extreme advantages on the interior of both lines, whereas Dooley's only extreme advantage was at wide receiver. So Jones' starters should be better, but not as clearly as you might think.

2. While Jones will inherit more bodies, he doesn't appear to have much more quality depth than Dooley did in 2010. As I've broken it down, Dooley's 2010 second-team was superior in four positions and Jones' is superior in four positions. Jones is inheriting a bit of a mess after Maggitt at outside linebacker, and Dooley was helped by Tyler Bray and Ja'Wuan James already being on campus when he was hired. But again, Jones has one extreme advantage: he appears to have competent second-team defensive tackles, whereas Dooley inherited an utter disaster. That alone puts Jones in a better position, even with Dooley's big advantage with QB depth, but again, not by much.

3. While Jones should have a slight advantage in year one, his year two challenge may be larger than Dooley's. While you may not have noticed this, it shouldn't come as a surprise. When Dooley took over, his senior class was the disaster of a group from 2007. Jones' senior class will be the Kiffin/Dooley 2010 group that has carried the team for two-and-a-half years. When they're gone, he has very little behind them, especially if Richardson, Johnson, and Maggitt go pro after their junior years. After his first year, Dooley was set to lose all major contributors at WR, TE, DE, and ILB. He was able to compensate by signing Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers, and Mychal Rivera, keeping Jacques Smith and Corey Miller in the fold, grabbing Malik Jackson from Southern California, and moving Austin Johnson to defense. After Butch Jones' first year, he'll be set to lose half the two-deep (assuming Richardson goes pro) at outside linebacker and every single position on both lines. Behind them are just two players who have gotten significant playing time: Marcus Jackson and Jordan Williams. It is vital in the next six weeks for Jones to sign players on both lines who can contribute as sophomores to aid what looks from here like an extremely painful transition. Also, he should find some linebackers.

Of course, what doesn't go into an analysis of the two-deep is the third team, where Jones should have a significant advantage in most places (OLB being the most obvious exception). So Jones' 2013 team, in addition to a slightly superior two-deep, should be able to withstand injuries much better than Dooley's 2010 team, and guys like Trent Taylor and Trevarris Saulsberry are more likely to jump in and demand playing time than the walk-ons from Dooley's inherited third-team. But he won't have the luxury of nearly everyone returning (and Tyler Bray taking over at QB) like Dooley did in his second year, which mitigates at least a good portion of the head start he has in rebuilding. His ability to salvage the 2013 recruiting class will be just as important as Dooley's ability to salvage the 2010. So will his ability to hang on to key contributors for 2013 and avoid the parade of transfers and dismissals that plagued Dooley's 2010 team.

One thing that jumps out at me upon comparing the two-deeps is the inability for Dooley to add some quality depth in the secondary, despite making it one of his main priorities in both 2011 and 2012. Instead of hoping that Naz Oliver, Prentiss Waggner, and Rod Wilks are good, we're hoping that Daniel Gray, LaDarrell McNeil, and Brent Brewer (post-ACL surgery) are good. It's no surprise that most of Jones' early targets are DBs.

So there you have it. Jones has quite the task ahead of him. An upset win in year one would go a long way towards proving he's up for it, both to the fans and to the recruits in 2014 who will be the backbone of his team once the rebuild is complete. But first, he needs to get the players that will keep the team competing in 2014. Best of luck, Coach.

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