By Warner Agee
Dooley Era Set to Begin
He doesn’t have a quarterback that has ever taken a snap in a Southeastern Conference football game, his offensive line is as green as a sparkling new John Deere yard tractor, he has already lost two projected starters in a four man defensive front and two of his best linebackers are recovering from knee surgeries, but it is still full speed ahead for new Big Orange head football coach Derek Dooley. The energetic and suddenly very talkative Vol skipper is an intense taskmaster on the practice field, but has displayed an ability to deliver a well-timed verbal zinger or two when dealing with the press before and after practice sessions.
Barring any unforeseeable developments over the next couple of weeks, junior college transfer Matt Simms will open under center when the Volunteers entertain their West Tennessee brethren from Martin on Sept. 4. Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray are in an almost statistical dead heat after the first two full scale scrimmages, but Simms will get the nod because of his previous experience at the University of Louisville and his one year as a starter at El Camino Community College. Bray, who has added around 25 pounds to his slender frame, certainly looks as if he is loaded with potential and he impresses those who see him throw with what appears to be a big time throwing arm and good field awareness for such a young and inexperienced newcomer.
In front of the quarterbacks, the starting five offensive linemen have a grand total of three career starts, all by senior guard Jarrod Shaw. Still, there is obvious talent and impressive physical credentials in that forward offensive wall. Left tackle Dallas Thomas (6-5, 297) is the team’s most improved offensive player and junior center Cody Pope (6-6, 295) is not far behind in pursuit of such accolades. Left guard JeQuari Schofield (6-6, 328) is a red-shirt freshman with long arms, good feet and a desire to play downhill against defensive tackles. Early enrollee JaWuan James (6-7, 310) was one of the prizes from the last recruiting class and it really helped to accelerate his progress by being on hand for spring drills this year.
More strong and athletic “young pups” are attempting to work their way into the rotation. Red-shirt freshman Daniel Hood (6-4, 280) is currently the top backup at left tackle, juco transfer Darin Gooch (6-3, 310) is competing at center and true freshmen Marquis Pair (6-6, 278), James Stone (6-4, 297) and Zach Fulton (6-5, 318) are not backing down at practice as they look to avoid the red-shirt this fall.
The loss of senior defensive end Ben Martin and Marlon Walls, a sophomore tackle, caused concern and consternation in the UT camp last week. Dooley immediately switched fifth year senior Victor Thomas (6-3, 295) back to defense after he spent the spring working at center. Thomas responded by earning a start alongside Motori Hughes in last Saturday evening’s scrimmage. Southern Cal transfer Malik Jackson and senior Gerald Williams are battling for the starting nod with Martin lost for the season at left end. Senior Chris Walker, the squad’s best pass rusher, will start at right end.
It has been “so far, so good” for senior linebackers Nick Reveiz and Savion Frazier as August practice sessions reach the half way point. Both veterans were felled by torn ACLs last fall, but both are at or near full speed and showing no ill-effects from the surgeries. Frazier is locked in a heated battle with another former middle linebacker, Herman Lathers, for the first team berth at the Will (weak side linebacker.) Reveiz has the edge on former fullback Austin Johnson, a player who was originally recruited to play on defense and should see plenty of duty beside Reveiz if the Vols go to the 3-4 front in some situations this season.
Dooley has come out of his shell since practice got started. When asked what position had the best depth on his team this year, he quipped, “That would probably be our training staff!”
Tennessee’s verbal commitment list for the 2011 signing class is, well, Yuppie, that’s upwardly mobile. Big time high school safety Pat Martin (6-0, 197) announced on Sunday that he planned to sign with UT. With half the class now filled with verbals, head coach Derek Dooley and his outstanding recruiters can concentrate on specific areas of need from here until next February!