It is alarming to discover what national football writers know about Tennessee that I don’t.
It is also humbling. Here I am, in close proximity to the Volunteers, an honorary letterman with almost a lifetime of background that supposedly provides reliable perspective. I have a small but functioning pipeline for current information. It is not clogged. I just checked on Josh Smith.
Obviously, Pete Fiutak of College Football News and Campus Insiders and possible other affiliations knows a bunch of somethings that I don’t know.
I do know that I flinched when I found that he had picked Tennessee as the No. 14 team in the country without being sure who will emerge as the starting quarterback. He first said Quinten Dormady should be No. 1 based on passing skills but hedged that bet because of Jarrett Guarantano’s athleticism, size and upside.
A lot of us are at that identical stage of uncertainty and confusion without guessing No. 14 in the country. Dormady looked better in the spring half-game. Guarantano has the larger reputation.
I did a double-take when Pete said the secondary is loaded with options, veterans and producers. Pete actually declared defensive backs were a 2016 Volunteer positive. Indeed, they were so good, they got their coach fired.
Pete said what many of you have said, that there was no excuse whatsoever for last year’s Tennessee team to finish 9-4 and not end up in the SEC championship game. He said beating Nebraska in the bowl was nice. He didn’t mention how bad was October or the devastating loss to Vanderbilt but concluded that 2016 “was supposed to be when it all came together under Butch Jones, and it didn’t happen.”
Most of us lived through that. Thank goodness that was then. What comes next is almost guaranteed to be different. Top talent moved on. Butch changed all the assistants who weren’t relatives or otherwise nailed down.
Fourteenth in the country? Wow, that is very close to top 10. No reason to wake the sleeping giants on the Tennessee schedule.
Edward Aschoff, ESPN staff writer who survived the recent purge, went the other direction. He says Tennessee’s outlook is slipping or falling.
“Offensively, there are questions just about everywhere.”
Ed says the offensive line is still a mystery.
I’m going to cut him some slack. Aschoff is a Florida man. That line mystery could be wishful thinking. But, I am puzzled. I thought the offensive line was going to be a strength.
Indeed, these Volunteers, collectively, face many uncertainties. All of us, including defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and line coach Brady Hoke, can only guess who will play defensive tackle. Spring practice didn’t come close to answering that question.
Depending on Shoop’s defensive scheme, Tennessee has one, two, three or four uncertainties at linebacker.
If injuries tripped the 2016 team, continued absences dulled spring results. There was talk about the Vols toughening up but scrimmages were limited by the shortage of moving parts.
Some say defensive depth is a problem. That sounds hollow. This is Jones’ fifth year. He has directed masterful recruiting roundups. If there aren’t enough capable players, where are they?
Let’s play offense for a moment. Replacing Joshua Dobbs will be more than a minor inconvenience. Just think how many times he made something out of nothing.
Dormady and Guarantano have one built-in advantage. New coordinator Larry Scott says he will adapt his plan to players’ strengths rather than cling to preconceived notions. This sounds like rare wisdom from a man who has never called plays.
As for the offensive line, I’m going to stay with my opinion. Surely Butch didn’t plant the “mystery” description with Ed. The only mystery I see is whether Trey Smith plays guard or tackle.
Pete’s 14 is heavy. As expectations go, this is an overload. It means the Vols will need to win at least 10 or again end up as disappointments. I had thought another nine would be sufficient.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org