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The big 2014 Tennessee football guide: Following the Ole Miss model

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Extreme turnover in the trenches should prevent Tennessee from doing much better than about 6-6 in Butch Jones' second season in Knoxville. But great recruiting and increasing experience could make for high 2015 expectations.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

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1. Ole Miss minus the breakthrough

It's become a rather common recipe in the SEC: new coach takes over, surprises the college football world with a great recruiting class, then waits.

In his first full year of recruiting, Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze improved the Rebels' recruiting class from 47th in 2012 (according to 247 Sports) to eighth in 2013, complete with the No. 1 player in the country, Robert Nkemdiche. Kentucky ranked 50th in 2012, then improved to 34th in Mark Stoops' abbreviated first recruiting effort, then improved to 22nd in his first full effort.

Granted, Tennessee has had a higher baseline for recruiting than either Ole Miss or Kentucky. Still, after ranking 20th in 2012 and 24th in 2013, Butch Jones' first full year of recruiting produced the No. 7 class in the country.

That Jones topped Freeze in that regard isn't surprising, considering the two schools' recruiting reputation.

But it still throws you off a little bit when you realize that Ole Miss' 2013 class was backed in part by an on-field breakthrough in 2012 -- the Rebels improved from 2-10 and 100th in the F/+ rankings to 7-6 and 40th, giving Freeze some clear "See what we're doing? Don't you want to be a part of this?" ammunition. In Jones' first year, Tennessee was ... post-Fulmer Tennessee. In three years under Derek Dooley, the Vols went 6-7, 5-7, and 5-7, and ranked 57th, 51st, and 57th. With Jones at the helm in 2013, they went 5-7 and ranked 72nd.

Granted, they weren't exactly the same UT we've come to expect lately. They were a lot younger, first of all. When quarterback Justin Worley went down, they put a true freshman in charge, throwing to a sophomore wideout and three freshmen. The secondary consisted of a freshman, two sophomores, and a junior, with quite a few freshmen and sophomores coming off of the bench.

Moreover, it did appear that the Vols might be getting somewhere before Worley went down. They had upset South Carolina and nearly taken down Georgia in October. Both their rankings and their record were dragged down when he missed the final four games of the year.

Still, signing the No. 7 class was out of character for a program that has lost either six or seven games in each of the last six seasons. It offers the Vols a chance to skip a year or so in the rebuilding process. It also raises expectations, which are always high (or at least, higher than evidence might suggest they should be) in Knoxville.

A massive rebuild on both lines will probably prevent the Vols from doing much better than 5-7 in 2014, but there is distinct reason for optimism in the future. Recruiting rankings expire, and if results don't soon follow, the recruiting will dry up. But for now, the window of opportunity appears to be more open than it has been for a while.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 72
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Austin Peay N/A 45-0 W 29.8 - 27.2 W
7-Sep Western Kentucky 77 52-20 W 44.0 - 20.5 W
14-Sep at Oregon 5 14-59 L 27.3 - 34.0 L
21-Sep at Florida 48 17-31 L 15.6 - 31.8 L
28-Sep South Alabama 68 31-24 W 39.0 - 20.1 W 4.4
5-Oct Georgia 22 31-34 L 30.3 - 26.3 W 4.7
19-Oct South Carolina 10 23-21 W 20.8 - 20.0 W 0.1
26-Oct at Alabama 2 10-45 L 34.3 - 30.7 W 2.2
2-Nov at Missouri 14 3-31 L 24.1 - 24.7 L 5.3
9-Nov Auburn 4 23-55 L 25.7 - 39.1 L -1.1
23-Nov Vanderbilt 50 10-14 L 20.2 - 23.3 L -2.6
30-Nov at Kentucky 97 27-14 W 27.2 - 29.5 L -3.2
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -6.8% 89 +1.2% 58 +0.4% 57
Points Per Game 23.8 94 29.0 79
Adj. Points Per Game 28.2 70 27.3 62

2. Keep. Worley. Healthy.

In Tuesday's Kentucky preview, I dropped a line that fits in this preview, too:

In 2014, we'll find out if the experience that so many young players got was a good, developmental thing, or whether it was more akin to a triple-A pitcher getting promoted too early and stunting growth.

Simply calling a guy up to the majors (or the starting lineup, I guess) to get experience doesn't mean he's going to get good experience. It could end up detrimental to his development if he isn't ready.

Last fall, quite a few freshmen saw beneficial playing time. Blue-chip receiver Marquez North averaged a healthy 8.1 yards per target and made some all-world catches against South Carolina and Georgia. Wideouts Josh Smith and Jason Croom had their moments, to be sure. Four-star nose guard Danny O'Brien had three tackles for loss in minimal opportunities. Freshman corner Cameron Sutton allowed some plays but made some, too (four tackles for loss, nine passes defensed). We saw enough from players like this to believe that development time in 2013 could pay off with high-level performance in 2014 and, especially, 2015.

But not all experience is good experience, and despite all of the "he's so smart, and he's such a good kid" stories we heard about freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs, he wasn't ready to see the field. Neither was redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, it appeared. Peterman subbed in for an injured Worley early and looked overwhelmed. And when Dobbs took over for Peterman in November, the results were less than encouraging.

Before redeeming himself against the panacea that was Kentucky's secondary, Dobbs completed 58 of 98 passes for just 8.6 yards per completion with no touchdowns and five picks. He took more sacks in 128 attempts than Worley did in 202, and his passes didn't really go anywhere. And the effects on the team were obvious.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Tennessee 29.2, Opponent 28.4 (plus-0.8)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): Tennessee 31.1, Opponent 24.3 (plus-6.8)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 29.2, Tennessee 24.3 (minus-4.9)

Now, Worley only topped a 130 passer rating once all year, and it was against Austin Peay. So it's not as if he was threatening for All-American status. And Dobbs was indeed a true freshman, going up against Alabama, Missouri, and Auburn right out of the gates. That he was able to perform against even Kentucky was a sign of resiliency, if nothing else. Still, even adjusting for opponent, and adjusting for the fact that Dobbs' mobility gave the UT run game a small boost, Tennessee was about a touchdown worse with Dobbs behind center.

There might still be some doubt about who should win the job, but with the receiving corps looking exciting (and the offensive line looking raw as hell), give me the guy who throws better and takes fewer sacks.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.08 95 IsoPPP+ 99.5 65
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.7% 72 Succ. Rt. + 102.0 52
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.2 18 Def. FP+ 103.4 21
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.6 111 Redzone S&P+ 102.8 50
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.7 ACTUAL 24 +4.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 104 60 53 58
RUSHING 44 30 31 33
PASSING 111 92 92 95
Standard Downs 33 22 63
Passing Downs 109 112 40
Q1 Rk 66 1st Down Rk 40
Q2 Rk 42 2nd Down Rk 49
Q3 Rk 76 3rd Down Rk 87
Q4 Rk 42

3. Needing play makers

Mike Bajakian passed his first test in Knoxville. Jones' offensive coordinator of choice since their days at CMU, Bajakian was able to craft the balanced, pragmatic offense that Jones is selling to recruits, and if standard downs are any indication, he was one hell of a play-caller.

UT ranked 33rd in Standard Downs S&P+, 22nd in standard-downs efficiency. Even if the passes didn't really go anywhere (while Worley had a better per-completion rate than Dobbs, it was still only 11.4 yards per), and even if Worley's completion rate was a sketchy 56 percent overall, the Vols managed to balance run and pass and stay on schedule. They had two efficient backs in Rajion Neal and the more efficient, less explosive Marlin Lane, and they were able to matriculate well.

Tennessee's problem in 2013 was that when the Vols fell behind schedule, things came to a screeching halt. Losing ground meant end of drive. As exciting as the young receivers were, they weren't ready to beat defensive backs who knew the pass was coming, and despite one of the most experienced lines in the country, opposing pass rushers were able to get into the backfield and disrupt the progressions of whichever quarterback was behind center.

I've long called standard downs and passing downs "play-calling downs" and "play-maker downs," respectively. You need both to be successful, and UT only had one in 2013.

Thanks to experience and upside in the receiving corps, along with improved experience levels at quarterback, I could see UT's passing downs numbers improving quite a bit this fall. But graduation and early pro entry has turned a line with 184 career starts into a line with six career starts. A confused, green line is good at limiting your play-calling effectiveness.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Justin Worley 6'4, 224 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 109 196 1239 10 8 55.6% 6 3.0% 6.0
Joshua Dobbs 6'3, 203 So. 3 stars (5.7) 72 121 695 2 6 59.5% 7 5.5% 4.9
Nathan Peterman 6'2, 225 So. 4 stars (5.8) 10 23 45 0 2 43.5% 2 8.0% 1.3

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Rajion Neal RB 215 1124 12 5.2 5.2 38.6%
Marlin Lane RB 5'11, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 101 534 4 5.3 3.9 45.5%
Joshua Dobbs QB 6'3, 203 So. 3 stars (5.7) 31 258 1 8.3 7.1 58.1%
Tom Smith RB 24 95 0 4.0 1.4 45.8%
Deanthonie Summerhill RB 5'9, 201 Sr. NR 20 115 0 5.8 3.6 45.0%
Pig Howard WR 5'8, 186 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 18 93 0 5.2 4.4 50.0%
Justin Worley QB 6'4, 224 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 84 0 6.5 3.8 61.5%
Alden Hill RB 10 58 1 5.8 1.9 70.0%
Nathan Peterman QB 6'2, 225 So. 4 stars (5.8) 4 6 0 1.5 3.0 25.0%
Devrin Young RB 5'8, 178 Sr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jalen Hurd RB 6'3, 221 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Derrell Scott RB 5'11, 188 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Pig Howard WR 5'8, 186 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 76 44 388 57.9% 23.8% 47.6% 5.1 -175 4.8 50.0
Marquez North WR 6'4, 221 So. 4 stars (6.0) 61 38 496 62.3% 19.1% 54.5% 8.1 28 7.6 63.9
Rajion Neal RB 34 27 108 79.4% 10.6% 43.3% 3.2 -188 2.8 13.9
Josh Smith WR 6'1, 197 So. 3 stars (5.5) 33 12 182 36.4% 10.3% 45.8% 5.5 -20 7.3 23.4
Jason Croom WR 6'5, 234 So. 4 stars (5.8) 31 18 269 58.1% 9.7% 57.7% 8.7 39 8.7 34.7
Brendan Downs TE 6'5, 228 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 25 12 70 48.0% 7.8% 63.6% 2.8 -100 2.1 9.0
Johnathon Johnson WR 5'9, 183 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 21 13 189 61.9% 6.6% 42.9% 9.0 28 10.1 24.3
Marlin Lane RB 5'11, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 11 9 50 81.8% 3.4% 50.0% 4.5 -47 4.4 6.4
Cody Blanc WR 6'3, 203 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 7 1 43 14.3% 2.2% N/A 6.1 9 0.0 5.5
Devrin Young RB 5'8, 178 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 6 6 79 100.0% 1.9% 80.0% 13.2 19 9.2 10.2
Jacob Carter WR 6'0, 190 Sr. NR 5 4 45 80.0% 1.6% 66.7% 9.0 1 10.4 5.8
Vincent Dallas WR 5 2 14 40.0% 1.6% 50.0% 2.8 -18 3.6 1.8
A.J. Branisel TE 6'4, 224 So. 3 stars (5.6) 3 3 28 100.0% 0.9% 100.0% 9.3 -2 8.3 3.6
Alex Ellis TE 6'4, 240 Jr. NR
Von Pearson WR 6'3, 181 Jr. 4 stars (6.0)
Josh Malone WR 6'3, 202 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Daniel Helm TE 6'4, 232 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Vic Wharton WR 5'11, 192 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

4. All eyes on the youngsters

Worley is a senior. So are backs Marlin Lane and Devrin Young and tight end Brendan Downs. There is some semblance of experience within the skill position lineup. But it's impossible not to let your eyes drift to the young guys.

First, there's Marquez North. He battled injury and freshman-quarterback-itis late in the season, but he held his own, and in UT's two best games, he was huge, making an acrobatic touchdown grab against UGA and pantsing the South Carolina secondary for a late catch. He's joined by two other sophomore wideouts (Josh Smith, Jason Croom) who combined for 30 catches and a decent per-target average of 7.0 yards.

Then, you've got the freshmen. While Tennessee's recruiting class was well-rounded, a couple of the biggest standouts came in the skills -- five-star running back Jalen Hurd, five-star receiver Josh Malone, high-four-star tight end Daniel Helm. In all, five blue-chips join the mix, and that says nothing of high-four-star JUCO wideout Von Pearson, who, along with Malone, made a quick impact this spring.

You never want to assume that five-star true freshmen will end up playing like Adrian Peterson and Sammy Watkins, though I assume UT fans wouldn't complain if Hurd and Malone did just that. But when combined with what UT returns -- North, Lane, Downs, slot receiver Pig Howard (who, for at least this exact moment, is not currently suspended) -- it's not hard to assume that either they or other four-star freshmen could quickly contribute in the roles of No. 2 RB, No. 2 or No. 3 WR, etc. And that has to be exciting for the Vols.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 109.4 3.32 3.41 44.3% 71.0% 16.6% 147.3 2.2% 6.6%
Rank 32 14 47 15 51 23 18 10 60
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Antonio Richardson LT 24 2nd All-SEC
Ja'Wuan James RT 49
Zach Fulton RG 41
James Stone C 39
Alex Bullard LG 25
Marcus Jackson LG 6'2, 304 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 5
Mack Crowder C 6'2, 286 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 1
Jacob Gilliam LT 6'4, 296 Sr. NR 0
Kyler Kerbyson RG 6'4, 306 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Dylan Wiesman RG 6'3, 304 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Brett Kendrick RT 6'6, 315 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Austin Sanders LG 6'5, 311 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Dontavius Blair LT 6'8, 313 Jr. 4 stars (5.9)
Coleman Thomas RT 6'6, 311 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

5. A complete rebuild in the trenches, Part 1

Less exciting: losing five offensive linemen who had combined to start the equivalent of nearly 15 full seasons (178 career starts). Four-year starting tackle Ja'Wuan James, three-year (and then some) starting guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone, two-year starting guard Alex Bullard, and two-year starting tackle (and all-conference performer) Tiny Richardson are all gone, leaving behind junior guard Marcus Jackson, center Mack Crowder, and a whiff of new-lineman smell.

There are some upperclassmen in the mix, and one imagines that blue-chip JUCO transfer Dontavius Blair could quickly become a difference maker. So it's not as if Tennessee's starting five freshmen here. Still, going from one of the best, most experienced lines in the conference to one of the least is never easy, even when there's talent and a couple of juniors involved. This will be a weak spot for the offense, and depending on how weak, it could sabotage.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 112 IsoPPP+ 96.1 88
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.2% 72 Succ. Rt. + 106.0 37
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.9 29 Off. FP+ 105.5 9
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 98 Redzone S&P+ 99.9 58
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.3 ACTUAL 25.0 +3.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 84 42 37 38
RUSHING 101 74 64 55
PASSING 27 23 14 29
Standard Downs 40 35 78
Passing Downs 59 64 68
Q1 Rk 15 1st Down Rk 10
Q2 Rk 88 2nd Down Rk 62
Q3 Rk 67 3rd Down Rk 51
Q4 Rk 4

6. Opponents knew to run

Despite a young secondary and a pass rush that could only really get anywhere on passing downs, Tennessee had a damn strong pass defense in 2013, stronger than it should have expected. Corey Miller and Marlon Walls were pass-rush-only guys at defensive end, but they were good at that, and despite youth, the athleticism in the secondary was obvious.

Unfortunately, the run defense held the Vols back. Despite loads of experience up front, and despite the presence of man-mountain Daniel McCullers at tackle, UT was 74th in Rushing S&P+ and 57th in Adj. Line Yards; the Vols were total pushovers in short-yardage situations.

This appears to be a strength-gets-stronger, weakness-gets-weaker situation for Tennessee in 2014. Last year's top five tacklers on the line are gone, as is one of two solid run-stoppers at linebacker (Dontavis Sapp). The pass rush will probably regress without Miller and Walls, but the secondary looks like one of the league's best. The progression of freshmen up front could make the difference between another decent defense and one that takes a step or two backwards.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 100.6 3.25 3.12 44.2% 82.9% 17.4% 95.3 2.7% 8.5%
Rank 57 101 44 110 123 86 69 110 33
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Corey Miller DE 12 32.0 4.9% 7.0 6.5 0 1 1 0
Daniel McCullers DT 12 27.0 4.1% 4.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Curt Maggitt (2012) DE 6'3, 244 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 9 23.0 3.2% 5.0 2.0 0 1 2 0
Jacques Smith DE 10 22.0 3.4% 2.0 0.5 1 0 0 0
Marlon Walls DE 11 18.0 2.8% 7.5 4.5 0 1 1 0
Daniel Hood NG 12 14.0 2.1% 2.0 0.0 1 2 1 0
Jordan Williams DT 6'5, 272 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 13.5 2.1% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Corey Vereen DE 6'2, 248 So. 3 stars (5.7) 9 11.0 1.7% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Danny O'Brien NG 6'2, 281 So. 4 stars (5.8) 12 10.0 1.5% 3.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Gregory Clark DT 10 5.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Trevarris Saulsberry DT 6'4, 297 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 4 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
LaTroy Lewis DE 6'4, 255 So. 3 stars (5.7) 6 3.5 0.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kendal Vickers DE 6'3, 254 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Owen Williams DT 6'2, 289 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Dewayne Hendrix DE 6'4, 273 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Joe Henderson DE 6'4, 232 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Derek Barnett DE 6'3, 267 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Michael Sawyers DT 6'3, 299 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Dimarya Mixon DT 6'3, 266 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Jakob Johnson DE 6'4, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

7. A complete rebuild in the trenches, Part 2

The return of linebacker/DE Curt Maggitt should help, as long as he's healthy, anyway. He recorded 5.5 tackles for loss as a freshman in 2011 and five as a sophomore, but he tore his ACL late in the 2012 season, and his recovery wasn't rapid enough to get him ready for 2013. So he took a redshirt. He isn't necessarily an all-conference contender, but he's solid, and he could deflect some of the attention/expectations that will inevitably hone in on three four-star freshmen: Dewayne Hendrix, Joe Henderson, and Derek Barnett.

But even with Maggitt, this line is terribly young. Sophomores Danny O'Brien and Corey Vereen hinted at potential, but both are small for their position. There should be plenty of speed on the line, but speed doesn't necessarily help you in run support, and neither does a high level of inexperience. It's hard to see the run defense improving without McCullers and Sapp, and it's hard to see the pass rush performing as well without Miller and Walls.

Eighteenth-year senior A.J. Johnson is a beast in at middle linebacker, but he needs help, and leaning on freshmen and sophomores isn't a good way to get it.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
A.J. Johnson MLB 6'2, 242 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 83.0 12.7% 8.5 0.0 0 3 0 0
Dontavis Sapp WLB 12 49.0 7.5% 8.0 0.0 0 4 1 0
Brent Brewer SLB 12 22.5 3.4% 2.5 0.0 2 2 1 0
Jalen Reeves-Maybin WLB 6'1, 214 So. 4 stars (5.8) 11 11.0 1.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
John Propst MLB 12 7.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Raiques Crump LB 9 4.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kenny Bynum MLB 6'1, 234 So. 3 stars (5.6) 4 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin King MLB 6'2, 246 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Chris Weatherd LB 6'4, 225 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
Dillon Bates LB 6'3, 216 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Brian Randolph SS 6'0, 197 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 62.5 9.5% 2.5 0 4 3 1 0
LaDarrell McNeil FS 6'1, 204 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 12 44.5 6.8% 1 0 1 3 0 1
Justin Coleman CB 5'10, 190 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 41.0 6.3% 1 0 1 7 0 0
Cameron Sutton CB 6'1, 180 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 36.5 5.6% 4 1 2 7 0 0
JaRon Toney NB 12 31.0 4.7% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Byron Moore FS 12 21.0 3.2% 1 0 0 2 1 0
Devaun Swafford SS 5'11, 184 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 14.0 2.1% 0 0 1 1 1 0
Malik Foreman CB 5'10, 181 So. 3 stars (5.6) 9 8.0 1.2% 1 0 1 0 0 0
Max Arnold SS 5'11, 195 Jr. NR 7 6.0 0.9% 0.5 0 0 0 0 1
Geraldo Orta DB 6'0, 186 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 4.5 0.7% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Lemond Johnson FS 6'1, 196 So. 3 stars (5.7) 12 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Riyahd Jones CB 6'0, 183 Sr. 3 stars (5.6)
Todd Kelly, Jr. DB 6'0, 191 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Cortez McDowell DB 6'1, 204 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Evan Berry DB 5'11, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
D'Andre Payne CB 5'9, 184 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Rashaan Gaulden DB 6'1, 165 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Emmanuel Moseley CB 5'11, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

8. The secondary will come around first

Actually, it already has. LaDarrell McNeil and Justin Coleman are two-year starters, Brian Randolph was a force in returning from a 2012 knee injury, and Cameron Sutton showed a world of potential. The depth was thinned out a bit with the loss of JaRon Toney and Byron Moore, but you can overcome that. Between some interesting sophomore backups and a two-deep's worth of incoming freshmen (including at least one with exciting, orange blood lines), the second string should be fine.

This secondary will only be as good as the front seven allows it to be, but despite what is still relative youth, I love this unit. And I'll probably love it even more in 2015.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Michael Palardy 63 44.5 6 10 33 68.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Michael Palardy 60 61.7 19 0 31.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Michael Palardy 34-35 9-10 90.0% 5-7 71.4%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Devrin Young KR 5'8, 178 Sr. 19 25.9 0
Vincent Dallas KR 13 22.2 0
Devrin Young PR 5'8, 178 Sr. 8 7.9 0
Jacob Carter PR 6'0, 190 Sr. 7 9.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 57
Field Goal Efficiency 22
Punt Return Efficiency 21
Kick Return Efficiency 52
Punt Efficiency 86
Kickoff Efficiency 113
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 9

9. Lose one leg, lose three legs

The loss of Michael Palardy is equivalent to the loss of an excellent place-kicker, a solid punter (albeit one who outkicked coverage at times), and a mediocre kickoffs guy. The return of return man Devrin Young is exciting, but Palardy is a lot to replace.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Utah State 49
6-Sep Arkansas State 94
13-Sep at Oklahoma 17
27-Sep at Georgia 10
4-Oct Florida 29
11-Oct Chattanooga NR
18-Oct at Ole Miss 24
25-Oct Alabama 2
1-Nov at South Carolina 7
15-Nov Kentucky 75
22-Nov Missouri 22
29-Nov at Vanderbilt 61
Five-Year F/+ Rk 2.7% (51)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 11
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 1 / 1.6
TO Luck/Game -0.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 10 (5, 5)

10. September: yikes

By the time Florida visits Knoxville in October (the first time the two teams have met after September since the 9/11-postponed game of 2001, and the first intentional post-September scheduling since 1991), we'll probably know just about everything we need to know about Tennessee.

Never mind the brutal trips to Norman (which will test the hell out of the rebuilt defensive front) and Athens (which will test the hell out of the rebuilt offensive front). Let's just put it this way: when Utah State and Arkansas State fans look optimistically at their schedule, they're giving their team a pretty good shot of knocking off the Vols, and not without cause. USU has been a top-40 team each of the past two years, and ASU ranked ahead of Tennessee as recently as 2012.

I'm not saying the Vols will lose either of those games, but we'll just say that a 2-2 start should be cause for optimism, and home wins over Florida, Chattanooga, and Kentucky would then put them just one win away from their first bowl bid since, incredibly, 2010.

I wouldn't set the bar too much higher than 6-6 just yet, not with the line problems they will probably suffer this year. But when you do something you haven't done in four years, no matter how minor, that's another sign of progress. Take it, let your youngsters take their lumps, and build toward 2015. Tennessee didn't experience the on-field breakthrough that Ole Miss did in 2012, but there's still hope for future breakthroughs.