Has 2012 kinda sucked so far? Are you still pissed that Alabama won the National Championship? Did you watch a replay of the 1998 BCS Championship and eat leftover Pizza Hut alone on Valentine’s Day? Are you sick of the cold weather? No need to fear, the Orange and White spring game is right around the corner, and the Vols are going to give Big Orange Nation something to cheer about. Here are 6 good reasons the Vols and Coach Derek Dooley are going to turn things around in 2012.
6. 3-4 Defensive Scheme
The front seven for the Vols are stout for the 2012 season. AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt were able to gain valuable experience in their freshmen campaign which many freshmen linebackers dream about. Jacques Smith will move to a more natural position at the outside linebacker and the return of injured veteran Herman Lathers will prove to be a great building block of leadership that the Vols desperately missed in 2011. Coach Sunseri will bring his defensive expertise from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville as the Vols new defensive coordinator and add additional talent to an already competitive and successful Tennessee recruiting staff.
On the defensive line, Coach Derek Dooley has done a great job of recruiting junior college talent as well as grooming younger players to enter the rotation. With the addition of former Alabama prospect Darrington Sentimore and junior college standout Daniel McCullers, the Vols make an attempt to replace the leadership lost with the graduation of Malik Jackson. McCullers is a 6’8 380 pound defensive tackle that is going to make the lunch ladies in Gibbs Hall cringe when he enters the cafeteria. Imagine Jarnell Stokes plus 120 pounds and you have Mount McCullers.
5. Jay Graham joins Vols coaching staff
As I write this article there is a painting of Jay Graham and Peyton Manning torching Alabama from 1995 on the wall in my mancave. I think it was an important hire to get a guy of Jay’s caliber to join the staff and help boost one of our struggling facets on offense. Jay was in Knoxville during the glory days and he knows the amount of work it takes to be a consistent winning program. He spent 6 years in the NFL as a journeymen running back and has various coaching experience throughout the country with the most notable being last season with Coach Spurrier at South Carolina. I think UT has capable talent at the running back position and hopefully Coach Graham will get the production back on par from seasons past.
Raijon Neal showed glimpses of being an explosive offensive weapon in both the running game and the passing game towards the end of the season. Marlin Lane will take the majority of the carries depending on his health, and many younger talents could see action in the fall.
4. 10-7 Loss against Kentucky in 2011
Three months later, I still throw up when I think about this game. Sometimes I wake up with night terrors seeing a wide receiver at the quarterback position. I’m not going to write much about this; however, I think the mental agony of this game will remain in the minds of all the coaches, players, and fans and will serve as a reminder of how bad losing sucks and how no one associated with the program ever wants to be in that place ever again.
3. Backs against the wall
I think it’s fair to say that Coach Dooley has some pressure on him this season (maybe the understatement of the year); however, with some good additions to the coaching staff and some great recruiting classes in spite of a few lackluster seasons I think Dooley will keep his job as head coach of Tennessee for years to come. I see the Vols exceeding expectations in 2012, and doubters will be silenced temporarily. Maybe I’m still addicted to Dool-Aid, but I think that Coach Dooley has done a good job with the resources and players he was left. This is long discussion for another day, but this is where the rubber meets the road for the current staff.
2. Favorable schedule
When you play in the SEC you have to run the death gauntlet in conference play so no SEC schedule is considered favorable (Take note Mizzou and A&M). Last year, Tennessee had the pleasure of playing Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina in consecutive weeks and also saw Arkansas on the road later in the season. Just to emphasize that last sentence, Tennessee played LSU and Alabama back to back in 2011. The upcoming schedule matches the Vols against very winnable non-conference opponents which include NC State, Georgia State, Akron, and Troy all of which are at home or on a neutral field. In conference play, Tennessee trades LSU and Arkansas from 2011 for Mississippi State and newly added Missouri in 2012.
1. Wide Receiver University
The passing game is going to make the 2012 team very fun to watch. I was in Gainesville when Justin Hunter went down with his season ending injury and there was an overall feeling that the season itself was over. Darick Rogers carried most of the load for the Vols offense while playing alongside 3 different quarterbacks in 2011. Darick finished with 1040 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2011 with a very below average running game and backup quarterback play that limited play calling for the coaching staff. Before Hunter was injured, the Vols offense was clicking on all cylinders while having a lot of fun which was very evident on the field. Darick and Hunter had very productive seasons as Freshmen alongside Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones. Hunter as a freshmen had 16 catches for 417 yards and 7 touchdowns. This kid had 16 catches and 7 were touchdowns! In the 3 games Hunter appeared in during 2011, he had 17 catches for 314 yards and 2 touchdowns and finished as the third receiver statistically behind Darick and tight end Mychal Rivera. Hunter has also had two 80 yard touchdowns in his career which adds to his big play potential, not to mention a blocked field goal against Cincinnati.
Tyler Bray has to be excited to have both of these guys back on the field together, but to make something good even better add junior college standout Cordarrelle Patterson into the mix. This guy is an impressive talent and gives the Vols some much needed depth they lacked in 2011. If you haven’t seen CP’s highlight film go right now and Youtube it, it is sure to brighten your day. Tennessee also added 4 star wide receiver recruits Drae Bowles, Jason Croom and Alton “Pig” Howard that can add some talent and depth after losing some players after the 2011 season to transfer.
Get use to spreading the field in 4 receiver sets with Bray in the shotgun slinging the pigskin to various targets. These Vols will score some points regardless who they are matched up against and with the presence of any type of running game and an already stout defense, 2012 could turn out to be the "Year of the Vol".
Below is a totally unrelated yet awesome video of Curt Maggitt hunting, fishing and wearing funny hats.