1. New coaches, fresh start
The Vols return 20 of 22 starters on offense and defense, but had to replace seven assistant coaches. Only head coach Derek Dooley, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jim Chaney, and now receivers coach Darin Hinshaw return from last year’s staff. Chaney returns for his fourth season in Knoxville, and joining him on offense will be Jay Graham (running backs), Sam Pittman (offensive line) and Charlie Coiner (tight ends/special teams). Defensively, the Vols have a completely new staff, led by coordinator Sal Sunseri, who brings a new scheme and 27 years of coaching experience to UT. Traditionally, Sunseri has coached in a 3-4 defensive front, which he’ll use some this year. How much depends on the personnel on the roster and how quickly players adapt to his scheme. He’s joined by John Palermo (defensive line), Derrick Ansley (cornerbacks) and Josh Conklin (safeties).
2. Thin at wide receiver
What was a strength at the beginning of the 2011 season is now a potential hindrance for the Vols, as the wide receiving corps is thin, and there are uncertainties looming. Justin Hunter is five months out from his ACL tear suffered against Florida. Hunter will do work and is well-paced for his return, but he’ll be non-contact during spring practice. Dooley declined to comment on reports that Da’Rick Rogers had missed workouts, just saying that Rogers had made improvement along with the rest of the team this offseason. DeAnthony Arnett and Matt Milton left the program this offseason, leaving Zach Rogers and Vincent Dallas as the only returners. Early-enrollee athlete Cody Blanc will get reps at wideout, and four newcomers will arrive in the summer, including highly-touted JUCO receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
3. Tyler Bray
Entering his junior year, Tyler Bray is still a bit of a mystery. The 6-foot-6, 213-pound signal caller has started a season’s worth of games (12), but has yet to establish himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the country — at least to non-Vols fans. Bray’s talent isn’t in question. He can make throws that few others in the college game can. He’s put up video game numbers against lesser competition, but also has yet to beat one of the SEC’s top teams, granted he’s had few chances. Now as an upperclassman, and especially as UT’s quarterback, Bray must be a team leader, both on and off the field.
4. Getting the run game together
Dooley said at the spring press conference Sunday that one of the team’s main goals is to get the run game back on track, especially with said issues at wide receiver. Tennessee’s running attack had issues even getting positive yardage in the SEC last season, totaling just 1,081 yards on the ground. And 693 of those leave with two-year starter Tauren Poole, who is likely to be selected in the NFL Draft in April. One of the big roster moves is Raijon Neal staying permanently at running back. The rising junior rushed for 134 yards last season and caught13 passes for 269 yards, good for fourth on the team. Neal and rising sophomore Marlin Lane (second on team with 280 yards) are atop the depth chart to begin spring practice.
Vols’ watch list heading into spring practice
1. New coaches, fresh start