At the close of the 2011 football season, there were many areas of concern for the Volunteers.
While a porous offensive line, an anemic running game and an ineffective pass defense were certainly major issues, no area of worry was more obvious in their stunning defeat to Kentucky than a lack of leadership.
In that 10-7 loss, the team had few available options to stand up and fill that need.
This year, however, the teams seems to be heading in a better direction, with leadership being a key emphasis of the summer workouts.
"I never been around a good football team, a championship team that always didn't say we just had great team chemistry, we had great leadership, we have had tremendous unity," said head coach Derek Dooley. "I think that, combined with the fact that it was pretty apparent we didn't have what we needed last year from that standpoint, is probably why there's a bigger emphasis on it."
With Dooley's added emphasis on leadership, several players on both sides of the ball have taken it upon themselves to step up into that much-needed role.
Once such leader has been senior linebacker Herman Lathers, who has not only battled through a bout with cancer in his youth, but is also returning this season from an ankle injury that robbed him of his last.
"Herman is such a great presence for our football team for a lot of reasons," Dooley said. "But not just overcoming those injuries, it's the level of commitment that he showed to be the best player he could be, and also be a great team leader. He's extremely committed to having a great season, but also this team to have a great season. That has permeated throughout the team. I think guys like Herman, they have an ability to affect others and create more leadership on the team."
Lathers himself does not shrug off his responsibility, as he says that the coaches have viewed him as a leader since the end of last season.
"They evaluated me and knew I had a lot of playing experience and injuries, so I took the job to step up and be a leader of this team," he said. "I'm going to step up and lead this team where we need to go."
Another such leader for the Vols has been junior quarterback Tyler Bray, who has gained a commanding role with not only his offensive line, but also his receivers.
"At first it was kind of hard, cause you don't want to scream at the guys who are a hundred pounds bigger than you. And if you say the wrong thing, they might knock you out" Bray quipped. "But they're all starting to listen to me a little more and we're all working a lot harder than we have... Last year (if he had tried to correct a receiver's route) the receivers would have looked at me like 'What are you telling me to do, shut up, you're not running routes.' But this year I can pretty much say whatever and they will listen."
Bray's development will remain a key story line of the fall, though disturbing off-the-field incidents would lead many to question his newfound maturity.
Regardless of who leads the team, the most important thing, especially to junior receiver Da'Rick Rogers, is that the Vols simply find one consistent source of it.
"No matter how talented we are, we have to have leaders so I feel like that's one thing that's been prevalent in practice," he said.