2010 Vols spring practice
By David Climer, The Tennessean
At halftime of the Orange & White Game on Saturday, several former Tennessee stars like Peerless Price and Al Wilson zipped up and down the field in a flag football game. It's a good thing they brought back these UT legends of the fall. They helped break up the monotony. The name of this spring game was 1, 2, 3, Punt. The first eight series - four by the White team and four by the Orange - all ended with punts. There were only two touchdowns all day. Maybe the Vols are that good on defense. A more likely explanation, however, is that this team is very limited offensively, with a short-handed, inexperienced offensive line and unproven quarterbacking. "When the defense dominates the offense, it's good for the defense. I don't know what it says about the offense," safety Janzen Jackson said. Of course, that's the confounding thing about spring games. The glass is always half full and half empty. "I wouldn't judge too much by what happened out there," center Cody Pope said. "We were definitely very limited in what we were doing because we didn't want to show a lot of things. It was a spring game. It was all for the fans." Considering everything Vols football has been through in the last 16½ months, including three different head coaches, nobody knew exactly what to expect in the first public exhibition of Derek Dooley's UT team.
"I'm really proud of this football team and how they've handled themselves with the work they have put into the program," Dooley said. "They've really embraced some new ways of doing things."
Talent-wise, these Vols are at low ebb. Of the 22 starters listed for the game against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, only 10 are still on the team. That's pretty heavy attrition for a 7-6 team.
UT has been leaking talent and depth for the last two-plus years. Of the 2008 recruiting class that was considered the weakest of Phillip Fulmer's tenure, only 13 players remain. During his one-and-done coaching stay, Lane Kiffin saw 15 players leave.
And in recent weeks, UT lost tailback Bryce Brown, offensive tackle Aaron Douglas and quarterback Nick Stephens.
Couple that with a schedule that includes the four best teams in the SEC - Alabama, Florida, LSU and Georgia - as well as Pac-10 force Oregon, this could be a difficult debut for Dooley.
Of particular concern is the unsettled state of the quarterback position. UT hasn't gone into a season with so much uncertainty there since 2004, when freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer wound up splitting time.
Midway through the spring, junior-college transfer Matt Simms vaulted up the depth chart. But Simms had a bad scrimmage two weeks ago and threw three interceptions on Saturday. His third interception, a pickoff by cornerback Anthony Anderson, came late in the scrimmage with his Orange team trailing 13-7.
"I definitely took a few more chances than I should've taken, but I'm not going to judge myself too harshly," said Simms, who completed 12 of 26 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Freshman Tyler Bray, a mid-term enrollee, was far more effective, hitting 18 of 40 throws for 200 yards and a touchdown.
"I have seen Tyler Bray grow up this whole spring," said Jackson, who started nine games as a freshman last season. "He's a freshman who should be in high school going to his prom right now."
Bray showed off a live arm but also threw into traffic often. If he winds up as the starter, especially behind a suspect offensive line, there will be growing pains.
When it comes to freshman quarterbacks, the SEC eats its young. Even eventual No. 1 draft picks like Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford struggled as newbies.
Based on first impressions, Dooley is looking at a long, challenging first season with the Vols.