Last week Darrin Kirkland Jr. took home the vote, but Mike DeBord’s second place finish was a sign of things to come and earns Chris Pendley a helmet sticker for week one. Micah Abernathy was also an excellent option as it turned out. This week: Bristol.
Will Shelton - Butch Jones
Relax. It's not about pressure or must-win or any other over-sensationalizing. But the Vols do have a lot of moving parts this week. What's the confidence level of a team full of guys who've never been ranked in the Top 10 before, then were one overtime play away from not being ranked at all against Appalachian State? Why didn't the run game come to life and what adjustments need to be made? How do you manage guys who may be wondering why they didn't get more touches? Throw all of that in Bristol Motor Speedway, and it's a big week for the head coach. Sometimes more talented teams are more difficult to coach. Butch has done a great job keeping his first three teams above water and focused when facing extreme adversity. So far Team 120 has done a great job surviving. They'll need to do a little more than that to beat Virginia Tech and they know it. I'm curious to see which buttons our head coach pushes this week.
Incipient_Senscence -- Coleman Thomas
After struggling immensely at tackle as a freshman, Thomas was a revelation at center last season. Last week, he wasn't. Appalachian State's defensive line completely dominated the Vols' OL, and it started with the junior leader in the interior, who allowed consistent penetration by the Mountaineers and was flagged for two penalties. The whole line needs to be better if the Vols hope to put any separation between themselves and the new-look Hokies, and it starts in the middle.
Volundore - Josh Dobbs
It's not rocket science (see what I did there?!), but as Dobbs goes, so go the Vols. Last week, neither of them went particularly well. Whether by design or not, the lack of QB running plays plus several truly horrific throws nearly got the Vols beat. Will we see a more dynamic Dobbs this week? Is he banged up from that wicked goal line hit? Can he maintain composure in the face of Bud Foster's defensive schemes? Answering those questions in Bristol will go a long way toward convincing everyone that last week was an aberration that Josh and company can overcome on the way to a special season.
Justin Phillips - Jalen Reeves-Maybin
The captain and heartbeat of the defense will have a memorable Battle for Bristol. After JRM's season began unceremoniously following his ejection on a targeting call, I expect the senior linebacker to makeup for lost time. Cortez McDowell acquitted himself well in Reeves-Maybin's absence and surely increased the trust of Bob Shoop; however, Reeves-Maybin's absence was still noticeable at times against Appalachian State. Vols fans should expect an improved team come Saturday and much of that will have to do with the return of their defensive playmaker.
Chris Pendley - Alvin Kamara
Sir Not-Appearing-In-Week-One should see more action this time around. Kamara is part of why Jalen Hurd's cannonball run game is so effective, but he got lost in the Randy Sanders 2005 Throwback Offensive Showdown and Puntfest last week. Kamara should get 10-15 touches in this game, not counting punt returns; the more he can break the game, the better it will be. Virginia Tech's going to get it figured out on offense after a dour first week against Liberty; however, that's probably not happening in Week 2, so a couple big plays should allow Tennessee some breathing room.
Hunter Turner - Preston Williams/Josh Malone
Tennessee's offensive coaches have been taking heat all weekend for the unimaginative, vanilla, and borderline inexcusable gameplan they trotted out against Appalachian State. Mike DeBord has been around long enough to know that his head coach, the Tennessee administration, and the Volunteer fanbase will run him out of town on a rail if he repeats the same performance against Virginia Tech, so I'd imagine he won't have any trouble dialing up a more creative and effective gameplan. But here's the thing: for all the criticism heaped on DeBord and Josh Dobbs, many of last year's problems with the passing offense can be laid directly at the feet of an inconsistent wide receiver unit that struggled to make big plays. If Hokies' defensive coordinator Bud Foster loads up the box against the Vols' run game, Preston Williams, Josh Malone, and the rest of the Tennessee wide receivers must get separation from Virginia Tech's defensive backs down the field and come down with the football. No more drops or failure to adjust to less than perfect balls - because otherwise, Hurd, Dobbs, and Kamara are going to truggle against a succession of run blitzes and 8-man boxes.