(once again, lawvol makes us look good)
Back for its second year, The Big Orange Roundtable brings together the best of the Tennessee blogs in a question-and-answer format to help bring us through the final two months of the offseason. Each week between now and kickoff, one blog will host the questions on Monday, while the rest of us will be answering them each week. As always, we encourage your comments on these questions - the host blog will wrap-up the week every Friday by including the best answers (including those from the comments).
Moondog Sports gets us started this year...check out the questions after the jump...
1. In my mind, this season's success - or failure - centers around one man, Jonathan Crompton. What is your opinion of Crompton's ability to run Lane Kiffin's pro style offense? Can Crompton overcome his miserable 2008 season and lead the Vols to a winning record?
Back in February, I called Crompton damaged goods and scorched earth. Our readers gave the nod to BJ Coleman going into spring practice by a narrow margin, something I believe was based in large part on the bliss of ignorance - we had seen almost nothing from Coleman, thus he had to be better than what we had seen from Crompton (and Stephens).
Six months later, I'm willing to go as far as saying that I will give Jonathan Crompton a fair shot in 2009. When he trots out for the first snap against Western Kentucky, I'm not going to be thinking about 2008. I think he has a real chance - even if his numbers are bad in fall scrimmages - to reintroduce himself to the fanbase in the first three weeks of September. He'll have his second chance.
Running Kiffin's offense with this team will probably include lots of handing the ball off...I hope, at the very least, he can do that well. We've said this about every quarterback since Peyton Manning, and some have been better at it than others - but he doesn't have to be great. He just has to manage and not kill us. Last year he did neither. This year, I think he can manage well enough and minimize his mistakes to get us above .500. If the question is "can Jonathan Crompton lead the Vols to a 7-5 record?", I think the answer is yes. How much better can he do than that...well, hopefully the rest of the team will do a good job making sure that's not entirely up to him.
2. Last season, the kicking game was mediocre at best and the special teams - especially the punt coverage unit - was a disaster. Daniel Lincoln returns as the kicker and Chad Cunningham will return as the punter. What are your thoughts about the Vols' kicking game and special teams?
I'll say this about Chad Cunningham: that kid was a gamer in the second half against Auburn. He put the ball where it needed to be on almost every opportunity, and did everything a punter is supposed to do to help a football team. That one performance stands out enough to me to give me hope that this kid can do the job. He may not have Colquitt on the back of his jersey, but I think he can be more than adequate.
Daniel Lincoln was $$$ in the 2007 regular season: 21 of 26, including several must-make kicks. But since the 2007 SEC Championship Game, Lincoln has been under .500: 10 of 21, including two critical misses in Atlanta that season and a performance at UCLA in '08 that set the tone for things to come. If we can find the '07 model, I think we'll be fine.
Best special teams question: who's returning kicks? Nu'Keese? Oku? Tauren Poole? We've got interesting and untested options.
3. Tennessee's offensive line was thought to be a strength in 2008, but like the rest of the offensive unit, didn't perform well. What are your thoughts regarding the offensive line in 2009?
The o-line's dominance in 2007 and their faulty play in 2008 runs the continuum from David Cutcliffe to Dave Clawson. Maybe Cutcliffe gets too much credit for his quick-release, no huddle offense that gave up only four sacks in '07. Maybe Clawson gets too much blame...well, probably not. Either way, the '09 performance is going to be somewhere between those two ends.
Chris Scott, Jacques McClendon, Josh McNeil and Vladimir Richard are experienced and more than adequate. Teams are sure to stack the line against Tennessee's impending running game and the new zone blocking scheme, but (deep breath) I liked what I saw in the Orange & White Game, and that's just a start on what this system could potentially do. Will they be as dominant as some of the better Vol o-lines of the past? No. Will they be just as important this season? Yes.
This is also the area where injury could absolutely destroy us. Quick, name the fifth starter on the offensive line. Or name the two guys that play if Chris Scott gets hurt. The trenches breed serious injury, and the Vols will have to be very, very fortunate to make it through unscathed and still productive. There is enough here to feel adequate about, but not enough to raise great expectations, or keep me from being fearful of even one injury.
4. Tennessee finished 5-7 last season, a huge disappointment for a team expected to perform much better. How do you believe the Vols will finish in 2009?
It's still early, so you've caught me before boundless optimism mode takes over and I call 12-0 the week before kickoff. If we're going to be realistic, I think you set the boundaries at 10-2 and 5-7 and work between them.
I can't make a rational argument that projects wins over the Gators and Tide (not yet, anyway...). I'm cautious of Ole Miss, but I'm more cautious of the idea that they're the team that everyone loves right now...which probably means they're the team that's most apt to go down in flames. Plus, that game's in mid-November. So we'll put that in the toss-up pile with Georgia, UCLA, Auburn and South Carolina.
The Vols, as poor as the season ended up, were so much better than UCLA last season it was painful. I hope Lane Kiffin has seen Montario Hardesty's 5.5 yards per carry average from that game, or takes note of Arian Foster's 7.4 number. There's still nothing that will convince me that the Vols can't line it up and run every time against that team and win. So I just have a very hard time picking against UT there.
Auburn and UT were the same team last year and will probably be similar this year. Georgia is good at spots, but figuring their own stuff out. And the question with South Carolina centers around how much you think that blowout last year was due to the team having given up on the season.
So if we're counting Auburn, Georgia, Carolina and Ole Miss as question marks, then I think it's only fair to say the Vols split those four games. So my most realistic projection, here in the second week of July, puts the Vols at 8-4 with losses that will hurt, but also some wins that satisfy.
The same realistic parameters, to me, put Tennessee anywhere between the Cotton Bowl and the Music City Bowl at 8-4. Let's just say this is a good year to pull for the SEC to get two teams in the BCS. Either way, the key word this year is progress, and 8-4 would be just that.
(Check out the other responses from VolBlogs and a weekend summary at the host site each week)