Here I go again, writing about writers.
Dennis Dodd, Missouri man, former Kansas City Star star, now CBS Sports senior columnist, seems to be saying Tennessee football has regressed. He picks the Vols to finish fifth in the SEC East – behind Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina.
I do not agree with those who say Dennis Dodd hates Tennessee but he is the same flame-thrower who said, in 2017, that Butch Jones was underrated as a coach.
The modern version of DD says “I’m just not there with the Volunteers yet. That was a fine six-game winning streak at the end of last season, but the SEC has proven you need a quarterback to win. I don’t know if Jeremy Pruitt has one.
“When the standard is Shawn Robinson at Missouri – that’s who Jarrett Guarantano is ranked behind by some in the SEC – there is a problem. The Vols aren’t going anywhere meaningful without inspired quarterback play.”
Dennis is correct about the importance of quarterbacking. He might not be right about the continuing mediocrity of Guarantano.
Dodd has other battle scars from past columns. He was a harsh critic of Tennessee fans in the John Currie-Greg Schiano disaster. Dodd once implied that Vol fans are rednecks with a noticeable shortage of smarts. He characterized us as “Bubba from Pidgeon Forge.”
He misspelled Pigeon.
He said Vol fans traditionally overvalue the Vols. Guilty as charged. Some of that is blind optimism. Some is just wishful thinking. I do my best to promote realism.
Tennessee fans I talk with seem carefully optimistic about these Volunteers. They, too, are skeptical of Guarantano. They think the offensive line, with or without Cade Mays, will be much improved. I think that will be very meaningful to the quarterback.
The fewer times Jarrett is knocked down and stepped on, the more likely he is to make sound decisions and improve passing accuracy. He has worked really hard to get better physically and mentally. He has celebrated the idea of a second season with the same coaches in the same system.
If extra practice and learning does not lead to measurable production, Guarantano will go down as a major disappointment. I vividly recall what I was told by recruiting analysts five years ago: Four stars, No. 1 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country, really tough guy, astounding physical tools with great arm strength and breakaway speed as a runner.
Guarantano’s supporting cast has changed somewhat. The running game is promising. The top two receivers are gone. Returnees and recruits may not reflect overall improvement but there is more speed which translates to higher potential for big gains.
Send Dodd this message if you so choose: Tennessee defense should be good or better. There is no all-star excellence but there is experience and depth at most positions. Numbers are a possible problem at inside linebacker. It would be better if there was a duplicate Henry To’o To’o.
Pruitt special teams have been some degree of successful. Brent Cimaglia is a very good placekicker. Punting is less certain. The return game might be better. Marquez Callaway was conservatively reliable as a punt receiver. Velus Jones is a threat to get more yardage. He does have to prove he can catch the ball coming down in the combat zone.
Pruitt’s third roster has more talent than the previous two. It has more experience.
Alas, there are two kinds of experience, good and bad. None of these Vols know what it is like to defeat Alabama. Most need no reminders of the ugly whipping inflicted by Georgia State.
Tennessee fans generally attach more significance than I do to the strong finish of 2019. They conveniently overlook how close the Vols came to losing at Kentucky and in the bowl game.
Perfect execution of the onside kick against Indiana obviously did not sway Dennis Dodd. He thinks the Vols still have a long way to go.
Dodd is an expert. He is a former president of the Football Writers of America. I never made it higher than the board of directors.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org