First-year coach Derek Dooley's task only got tougher during the spring, as players who were penciled in as keys to the 2010 squad left the program, further cutting into what little depth already existed.
Tailback Bryce Brown never suited up and, while his departure isn't yet official, appears headed out of Knoxville after one year. Right tackle Aaron Douglas, the only returning starter on the offensive line, announced plans to transfer.
Quarterback Nick Stephens entered the spring atop the depth chart and ended it as a non-entity, opting to transfer and look for a place to play his senior year instead of standing on the sideline, holding a clipboard.
After the Volunteers finished spring practice with the Orange & White Game April 17, Dooley emphasized positives that he'll continue to stress before the team convenes again for preseason practice in August.
"They've really embraced some new ways of doing things," he said. "Their attitude has been tremendous and their attitude has been great. I'm really pleased with how they're playing."
How pleased Dooley remains probably depends on how the quarterback position pans out. Either Tyler Bray or Matt Simms will start and neither one really played lights-out in the spring game, combining to complete 46 percent of their passes.
An all-new offensive line did take shape as the spring progressed and even identified some leaders, including left tackle Dallas Thomas. But depth is a big concern there; an injury or two might cause lots of trouble.
The defense has potential to stop SEC-caliber offenses, but also can't afford many injuries. If Dooley's first year equals Lane Kiffin's 7-6 2009, Tennessee fans should be flat-out ecstatic.NOTES, QUOTES
--Coach Derek Dooley was thrilled with a crowd of 35,891 for the April 17 Orange & White Game in Neyland Stadium. It was the third largest attendance for a spring game in program history, trailing only 1986 (73,801) and 2009 (51,488).
--QB Matt Simms was just 12-for-26 with three interceptions in the spring game, but will have a 50-50 shot at the starting job in the fall. The youngest son of Super Bowl winning QB Phil Simms (1986), Matt Simms will battle throughout August with Tyler Bray to earn the start for the Sept. 4 opener against Tennessee-Martin.
TB Tauren Poole -- With Bryce Brown's absence from spring practice, Poole moved up on the depth chart and appears capable of starting when the season begins. Showing the ability to break outside while grinding out tough yardage between the tackles, Poole displayed why former coach Phil Fulmer was so happy to land him back in 2007.
QB Tyler Bray -- An early enrollee at Tennessee who arrived in time for Chick-fil-A Bowl workouts, Bray improved daily in the spring and threw a TD pass in the spring game, although his 18-for-40 accuracy won't cut it against SEC opponents.
SS Darren Myles, Jr. -- Faced with the impossible task of replacing Eric Berry, Myles capped a good spring with an interception in the spring game. Myles and FS Janzen Jackson displayed good chemistry throughout the spring.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You did see some different skills. A couple of the decisions were disappointing. We have to get better at that, and that doesn't have anything to do with the game plan." -- Coach Derek Dooley on the play of QBs Tyler Bray and Matt Simms in the April 17 spring game.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: There are some top-of-the-line SEC players and the recruiting class was ranked in the top 10 nationally, but Vol fans shouldn't expect any more than the seven wins they had last year. In fact, a losing season is very possible if whoever wins the QB job doesn't deliver mistake-free play and the team can't stay away from the injuries which plagued it last year. A second straight year of learning a new system won't aid things, either.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Uncertainty reigns at QB, where neither Tyler Bray nor Matt Simms has taken a snap in an orange uniform. The receiving corps is the most proven part of this team, with WRs Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore complemented nicely by TE Luke Stocker. TBs Tauren Poole and David Oku are capable performers, but can the offensive line give them room to run?
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: There is potential for a strong pass rush with DEs Chris Walker and Ben Martin returning. Montori Hughes has All-SEC ability at tackle, but the team is painfully shy of depth there. SS Eric Berry is irreplaceable, but the back seven should be decent with the return of hard-hitting FS Janzen Jackson.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Tennessee could most use improvement here. The new coaching staff has no idea who will handle PATs and field goals in the fall, while P Chad Cunningham wasn't long or high on kickoffs last year as opponents returned two for TDs. Oku averaged more than 26 yards on 33 kickoff returns.
OG JerQuari Schofield -- With this team's depth issues on the offensive line, the 6-foot-6, 312-pound freshman will have a chance to earn immediate playing time if he shows well in the spring and preseason.
DE Jacques Smith -- The top-ranked recruit out of Tennessee, Smith was one of the recruits who stuck with their commitment to the Vol program after coach Lane Kiffin's departure. Smith probably won't start but could see playing time as a backup and on special teams.
QB Tyler Bray -- Enrolling in December, Bray took part in practices leading up to the Chick-fil-A Bowl and impressed insiders with his raw physical skills. Bray could stand to add a few pounds to a stringy 6-6, 192-pound frame, but he might see the field if he executes well in the spring and August.
--TE Luke Stocker (shoulder) was held out of the spring game as a precaution. Stocker, an All-SEC candidate, is expected to be 100 percent for the start of preseason practice.
--OT Aaron Douglas left the program in March and announced plans to transfer. Douglas, who was the only returning starting offensive lineman, can transfer to anyone not on Tennessee's schedule the next four years, according to coach Derek Dooley.
--QB Nick Stephens decided to leave the team in early April when he struggled in the first scrimmage and the coaches opted to give other QBs time with the first team. Stephens wants to play his senior season and it was apparent he would probably not earn the starting job.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010