SEC media days begin soon and at their conclusion the start of the 2011 Tennessee Volunteers football season will be 40 days from beginning against Montana. Derek Dooley is referring to this season as “year one” of his time at UT with last year due to all the chaos that was surrounding the program being “year zero.” Tennessee fans are a lot more optimistic going into this season this year than last as they should be. Many people are predicting an appearance in the SEC Championship for the Vols as the Eastern Division champions. Today we will be explaining the Vols improvement by breaking down the offense.

Quarterback: This is a position that has Vol fans excited. Last year after now senior Matt Simms took his lumps against the meat of UT’s schedule heralded true freshmen Tyler Bray got the final five starts of the season. Bray won the final four games of the season in impressive fashion while making several big plays in the passing game. Bray also played fairly well in his toughest test the Music City Bowl against North Carolina until throwing an interception in the second overtime. The word out of summer camp is that Tyler Bray has dedicated himself to learning to the playbook, studying film and all the other nuances that make up a good quarterback it is also said that the lanky sophomore has put on about 15 pounds. Backing up Bray will be senior Matt Simms. Matt played well in the spring game and still believes he has a chance to upset Bray for the starting job in fall camp. Even if he doesn’t he is a very capable backup and is one big hit away from being the starting QB again. It is good for Tennessee that he has remained committed to the team. Rounding out the position are Doak Raulston and freshmen Justin Worley. Worley the Gatorade national player of the year is expected to redshirt.

Running back: Last year’s starter, senior Tauren Poole, returns after a thousand yard season as a junior. Poole is expected to carry the load again. While Poole won’t be confused with Trent Richardson or Marcus Lattimore anytime soon he is a solid back who runs hard and had some big breakaway runs last year. Behind Poole will be sophomore Rajion Neal who is a threat catching passes out of the backfield and showed some big play potential as a freshman. However, it is unclear if he could handle the load in between the tackles in the event of a Poole injury. UT does have a big back on the roster in sophomore Toney Williams (6-0 220). Williams was impressive in the spring game but he has yet to make an impact in a game since arriving at UT I expect that to change this season, especially in goal line situations. The position is rounded out by incoming freshmen Tom Smith and Marlin Lane, both hail from the state of Florida. Some people in the know have been raving about the four-star prospect, Lane, in UT’s off season workout program some even comparing him to former UT back, Jamal Lewis. Sophomore Channing Fugate returns as the starting fullback. Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney hopes to use him as a weapon out of the backfield as well.

Wide Receiver: This is the position that has UT fans giddy about next season. Mostly because of freak athlete Justin Hunter (6’4 200) who reeled in seven touchdowns as a true freshmen last year. Hunter is joined by fellow sophomore and former five-star prospect Da’Rick Rogers (6’3 215) Rogers has NFL ready measurables already (height, speed, strength etc.) depending how much he has matured this offseason as an individual and route runner he could join Hunter as a potential All-SEC player this Fall. Da'Rick is also expected to be a factor as a kick returner this fall. Nashville native, junior Zach Rogers joins Da’Rick and Justin as the other expected starter. The wild card of this position is sophomore Matt Milton (6’5 210). Milton a former high school quarterback has had some trouble with the transition to wide receiver but he has the raw talent to be a special player for the Vols as well. Rounding out the depth chart are freshmen Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett. Both will have an opportunity to break into the rotation during upcoming fall camp.

Offensive Line: This is the position that will be the most improved for the Vols this year. The group of true freshmen that took its lumps last year for the Vols now has a year of SEC experience and a year of college strength and condition under their belts. Ju'Wuan James, Zach Fulton, and James Stone who all started as true freshmen last year will be markedly improved. The O-Line is also bolstered by Nashville native, Notre Dame transfer, Alex Bullard. Bullard was named the surprise of Spring-practice by the coaching staff and is expected to start as well this fall. Right now Bullard is slotted at center with the left-handed Stone moving from center to left guard. Junior Dallas Thomas rounds out the starters at left tackle. Thomas was limited at times last season due to injury but at 100% he is a solid SEC tackle. This offensive line has the potential to be really special this year and next being the biggest line UT has had in recent memory. From left to right it will be Dallas Thomas (6-5 305) James Stone (6-3 308) Alex Bullard (6-2 309) Zack Fulton (6-5 330) and Ja’Wuan James (6’6 324). The classic o-line set up of a bigger, power, right side of the line. I expect a lot carries for Poole and co. to the right side. This line will also be much deeper than years past. Freshmen Marcus Jackson and Antonio Richardson will push for playing time as well as sophomore guard JerQuari Schofield.

53 Days Get Excited:


Posted by Graham Kelly | 11:45 AM | 1 comments »

I expect neither team to be able to run the ball. Pittsburgh's banged up offensive line wont be able to block BJ Rajii and company and the famous steel curtain will shut down James Starks and the Packers rushing attack. The difference will be the Packers pass offense. Aaron Rodgers will spread the Steelers with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Donald Driver for a lot of explosive plays.

Final Score: Green Bay 27 Pittsburgh 13

Filling In

Posted by Graham Kelly | 10:29 PM | 0 comments »

Ramon Foster was not ever expected to even make the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. The Ripley, Tennessee native, was an undrafted free agent after his career as a Vol came to an end. However, the kid who was a three sport athlete in high school and three year starter for the Tennessee Volunteers wasn't going to let the disappointment of going through all 7 rounds and not getting drafted stop him from following his dreams.

Foster made the Steelers roster during training camp and appeared in 14 games his rookie season in 2009. Foster even started 4 games in place of an injured Chris Kemoeatu. However, when the 2010 campaign started, Foster, once again found himself as a backup.

The Steelers O-Line was decimated by injuries all season and Foster was forced back into the starting lineup against the Baltimore Ravens in week 13. Foster hasn't relinquished the starting role this time. Even with the return of Steelers guard Trai Essex, Foster has started seven games in a row, and will be the Steelers starting right guard in the Super Bowl.

Much like the hard task fellow Vol, Packers, Chad Clifton faces blocking James Harrison, Foster will be charged with trying to contain the Packers feared defensive tackle, BJ Raji. Foster's play will be especially important since the status of Steelers regular starting center, Maurkice Pouncey is unknown.

Clifton Familiar With Big Stage

Posted by Graham Kelly | 10:54 PM | 1 comments »

Clifton number 70, was part of the great 1998 Offensive Line.

Chad Clifton a Martin, Tennessee native arrived at the University of Tennessee as part of the 1995 recruiting class. After red-shirting his freshmen year Clifton emerged as a 4 year starter at Tackle during his UT career. The highlight of his career being when Clifton was the starting left tackle on the 1998 National Championship team.

Mike Lombardi, of The National Football Post and NFL Network, spoke with ESPN's Bill Simmons on the BS Report Monday, He expects the Packers to spread out the Steelers and be able to throw at will with their explosive receivers against a Steelers defense that is built to stop the run. If the Steelers are going to win the game he said, "the MVP will have to be James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley because of the pass rush they would have put on Aaron Rogers."

Thus, in his opinion and mine if Clifton the man entrusted with protecting, Aaron Rogers' blindside, is effective in neutralizing the Pittsburgh pass rush, the Packers will be able to win the Super Bowl.

Good news for the Packers is that Chad Clifton has is most famous for being able to come back injuries. In 2002 he suffered a vicious blindside hit from Warren Sapp on an interception return. Clifton’s pelvis was separated and he had to be hospitalized in a Tampa area hospital for a week. The next season Clifton returned to the starting lineup and enjoyed a pro bowl season this year. With two weeks to heal from the stinger he sustained in the NFC Championship game he is fully expected to be ready to go and be a critical part of a championship winning team just like he was for the ’98 Vols.

Super Week Begins

Posted by Graham Kelly | 7:17 AM | | 0 comments »

The Super Bowl hype machine goes into full gear today as ESPN as well as The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers descend upon the Dallas/North Texas area. The Packers will be arriving to their North Texas practice site on Wendesday giving the team off for travel on Monday and Media Day on Tuesday.

Chad Clifton has recovered from his neck stinger suffered in the NFC championship game and is expected to practice all week and start on Sunday. Which is good news for the Packers who had to alter their entire game plan when he left the game against the Bears. Due to Clifton's back up T.J Lang not being able to block Julius Peppers one-on-one. Clifton will have to be at full strength Sunday to be able to protect Aaron Rodgers from Steelers, James Harrison.

Vols In Superbowl

Posted by Graham Kelly | 12:43 PM | , , , | 1 comments »

Well the Super Bowl hype has begun. This year features 4 former University of Tennessee offensive linemen. For the Green Bay Packers, Center Scott Wells, and Tackle Chad Clifton. For the Pittsburgh Steelers Ramon Foster and Chris Scott represent Tennessee on the offensive line. The Packers and Steelers have been riddled by injuries on the offensive line though out the season and into the playoffs. For the Packers Wells and Clifton have been longtime starters on the line and stalwarts in protection for Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers all season. However, Clifton who has had a pro bowl season suffered an injury in the NFC Championship game against the Chicago Bears. The Packers need Clifton had a 100% in the Superbowl against to protect Rogers from the Steeler's James Harrison and the rest of their fierce pass rush.

The Steelers are desperately thin on the offensive line and will be without stand out Center rookie Maurkice Pouncey. Ramon Foster has emerged as a solid starter for the Steelers on the offensive line but rookie Chris Scott has seen minimal playing time all season. One more injury on the line for the Steelers could push him into duty in the most important game all season.

Volwatch will be updated daily up until the Super Bowl. We'll keep following the UT players in the game and their health. As well as take a look back at their time at UT and other great Vol performances in the Super bowl.

The only thing Wayne Chism and the Tennessee Volunteers could do when the buzzer went off was sit… silently.

As Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans celebrated after their 69-70 win against the Tennessee Volunteers, the familiar smell of the final four became more distinct. As for The Volunteers, the ride had come to an end.

Tennessee absolutely played their hearts out. On offense, they had ball movement, great shot selection and amazing execution. On defense, they had countless tipped passes and an impressive number of steals. The entire team really stepped up and showed they wanted to win this game. JP Prince didn’t miss a shot the entire game (including three alley-oop dunks) unless you count the half court buzzer beater at the end of the game. The Vols shot an impressive 7-16 from 3 point land, hitting their first six in a row. Overall the Volunteers played great.

There was just one problem though…

Free throws.

Tennessee shot a miserable 14 of 21 from the free throw line. Call it a personal pet peeve, but I can’t stand a bad free throw percentage. When a team is in the Elite 8, fighting for a national championship, you can’t go 14 for 21 from the free throw line. When you only lose by one point and you know you played great, you look at the numbers and that free throw percentage will give you nightmares.

As for Michigan State? Well honestly, they didn’t shoot that much better from the charity stripe going 16 for 21, but without those two points, Tennessee wins by one. See where I’m going with this?

The Spartans definitely had some impressive moments. They matched Tennessee with nearly every shot. Just when Tennessee thought they had something going, Durrell Summers would score 2 of his 21 points and his Spartan teammates would bounce right back.

They were nearly dead even to the very end…nearly. When the final buzzer sounded, Michigan State was just good enough to edge out the Vols and to go to the Final 4 for the fifth time in ten years and will play Butler for a chance to go back to the National Championship game where they have some unfinished business from last season.