Good Morning, My Friends,
“Football Time in Tennessee Nears!!” We are a mere 8 days to Kickoff with App State. It is a good time to do some reflections and some evaluations on the Vols going into the new season.
First, let’s look at last year. The manta to remember “25 Points!” and those close losses. The Vols last year had a good season and ended on a high note with a really good Bowl win. They were very close to a great season. For the great year several things had to happen that did not happen. What were they? Every loss could have been another win with one play. What were those plays? First, in any of those games one more first down in the fourth quarter would have resulted in a win. There were too many dropped passes that cost first downs and a few bad passes. In my view most of the fault was upon the WR’s/TE’s more than the QB. Second in any of those games a single stop on 4th Down wins the game. In my view there were two factors, both the lack of a late game pass rush and a combination of poor tackling and poor coverage by the secondary. In most cases a successful tackle for no gain would have won the game because of the clock. Because of missed tackles there were long gains that flipped the field for the other team.
Now what caused these problems? First, there was a lack of depth on Offense at the WR slots and on defense at both DB and DL. Secondly, added to the depth issue, there was a problem with early season injuries to key players on both the DL and DB. Those injuries contributed and created depth and rotation problems. Some kids played hurt and were not at peak form for the early season games. Third, contributing to the depth problem was the lack of experience. I think the talent and coaching was there, but I feel after reflection on the year there were too many players thrust into “Prime Time” situations especially early in the year that did not have the seasoning/experience needed to play at the “Power Five/ SEC” level in football. Because of their lack of experience, the young DB’s were a step slow on the pass breakup and on the tackle. When you look at the end of the year versus the first half of the year the young players and first time starters were playing both at a higher level and with a higher level of consistency. With the added experience they were a step quicker to make the play. The new players on defense gained experience and applied it rapidly which was a credit to the coaching staff. By the Bama game, I feel that depth was the primary weakness of the defensive team. The WR’s had improved but were still short on the needed level of play on execution. They had too many talented kids that were hurt and hampered to step up their level of play.
On to this year’s Volunteers Football Team. Where are the Vol’s today? First, they did not lose any key “Talents” to graduation and because of that they have one of the highest numbers of returning starters in the SEC. Looking at the rosters, this is the first time since the Phil Fulmer days and maybe before that that the Vols are able to project a “2 Deep Roster” with returning lettermen on both the offensive and the defensive sides of the ball. Since Lane Kiffin’s days, True Freshmen have had to start for the Vols in Football. This year the great news is that while the Vols are in the position that no True Freshmen have to be penciled in on the Starting Roster and the 2 Deep Roster, there are a number of True Freshmen talented enough that they are competing for playing time each day. In his Tuesday Press Conference this week Butch said that he expects most of the current class to play this year and that this is due their talent and to the level of their preparation to be able to play at the SEC level. He’s projecting only having 4 to 6 Redshirts in this year’s class is amazing to me.
Secondly, there have been two additions to Butch’s coaching staff. Both appear to be “Great Hires”. Larry Scott TE’s/ Special Teams and Bob Shoop Safeties/ Defensive Coordinator are both special position coaches and recruiters. Their impacts have been seen in the Spring and this Summer in both recruiting and player development areas. Next Thursday will tell a tale about their impact on the play of the Vol Team. Going back to the start of this article, both of these coaches seem to be really good at preparing their players to make the “One Play” that wins games. Their histories point to their players being “Difference Makers”.
Third, (Knock On Wood!!) this team is healthy. It appears that by the time the Vols get to their first SEC game with Florida the roster will have all the pieces but one in play. One thing that I really like about Butch, he is a “student of the game” he pays attention to all aspects of the game at each level of execution and preparation. One area that really stands out is the care and treatment of player injuries, especially in the “off season”. Football is a game of execution and reaction. It is a lot like track with the hurdles and relays, to be the best you have to practice at full speed and at your peak physical level. You try to practice injured and you develop bad habits because you favor the injury. It appears that new strength coach is doing a good job of both improving the player’s physical abilities levels but also reducing their incidents of injury. I really hope that this is maintained through the season. Chance Hall (OL) is the only potential starter that appears to be unavailable for the first games. The good news is that the OL is deep with players with starting and backup experience in the SEC. He will be back.
Fourth, this team is FAST. Each year Butch and his staff have looked at several things in the next class. Their player profiles look at character, competitiveness, smarts, and SPEED. It is clear in looking at the kids while they like size, especially in the Skill Positions, they demand Speed. I think that each year’s class has gotten faster. This really shows on the WR’s/ DBs/ RB’s. On Offense they can break long plays and on Defense they fly to the ball. Special Teams are really Special both in coverage but also in returns on kicks and punts. I have looked at the early commitments for next year, and Butch has not changed his profile. These kids are also showing that they are going to be “special”.
Fifth, Special Teams will be Special in all areas. Good coaching with skilled players playing those teams with Pride. They have experience and talent. Not many coaches would recruit and sign a Long Snapper a year before a new one is needed. Butch did that and I think that it will pay off this year.
Sixth and my last point, this team is SMART! Have you noticed that the graduation rates and Team GPA has gone up each year Butch has been coaching in Knoxville. The incoming Freshmen had a GPA of over 3.0 for their first terms on campus. Butch commented on the ability of these Freshmen to contribute early because of their “Preparedness”. They have not only the physical tools needed to play at the SEC level but they also have the mental tools needed to learn and prepare to play at the SEC level. They appear to have a very high learning curve that makes them very competitive with more experienced players.
So this year rests upon the ability of one player making the One Tackle, the One Reception, the One Run, the One Interception, the One Block, the One Kick, and the One Return to win them all. Whew! I am excited and ready for some Football.