published Monday, August 3rd, 2009

'So much to do' Kiffin seeking answers as Vols open practice


by Wes Rucker
  • photo
    Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin talks about the upcoming season during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala. on Friday, July 24, 2009. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)

KNOXVILLE -- If you told first-year University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin that he had just five pressing questions headed into his first preseason camp with the Volunteers, Kiffin would probably ask where he could sign that unbeatable deal.

The fact is UT has more than five questions heading into Tuesday's first practice at Haslam Field, but those first five are as important as they are uncertain.

"We've got so much to do, and we really don't have much time to do it," Kiffin said earlier this summer.

The Volunteers have precious little time to sort out these five issues.

1. Who will start at quarterback?

Senior Jonathan Crompton seemed to take a sizable lead in spring practice, but Kiffin is adamant that junior Nick Stephens will get a fair shot this month after missing most of spring with a fractured wrist.

Former professional baseball player Mike Rozier and junior college transfer Nick Lamaison will add depth to the roster, but it's difficult to imagine either player sitting atop the depth chart by September.

2. Who will catch that quarterback's passes?

A season-ending injury to Austin Rogers, short-term setbacks to juniors Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones and freshman James Green's academic deficiencies will leave the Vols with six scholarship wide receivers on Day 1. Three of them (Nu'Keese Richardson, Marsalis Teague and Zach Rogers) are true freshmen, and junior Brandon Warren is a converted tight end.

Senior Quintin Hancock, despite not catching a single pass last season, was named the team's most improved offensive player this spring and will probably open camp as the No. 1 target. All six healthy scholarship bodies will probably get first-team snaps, though.

3. Who will emerge as the fifth offensive lineman?

Kiffin has stated several times that safety Eric Berry is the only Vol with a guaranteed starting spot, but it's probably safe to assume that seniors Chris Scott, Jacques McClendon, Vladimir Richard and Josh McNeil will return as starters on the offensive line.

The fifth starter -- probably at right tackle -- is a mystery UT needs to solve in the coming weeks. Stout defensive ends from UCLA and Florida come calling in September.

4. Can this year's linebackers continue Chavis-like success?

UT's linebackers, as a group, were never a problem under former defensive coordinator John Chavis. But so many relatively fresh faces this season have caused uncertainty on the defense's second level.

All-Southeastern Conference weaksider Rico McCoy, an inconsistent but playmaking senior, is by far this team's most experience linebacker. Middle backers Nick Reveiz and Herman Lathers, strongsiders Savion Frazier and LaMarcus Thompson and some talented freshmen must sort out the rotation, though.

5. Which true freshmen are ready to help?

Receiver is an obvious position that needs freshmen on the field, but Kiffin has long stated a dislike for simple seniority atop the depth chart. His Southern California offenses often featured first-year players, so it stands to reason that any teenager ready to play will play.

Tailbacks Bryce Brown and David Oku and defensive backs Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles Jr. stand out as potential immediate impact players, but others -- especially big defensive tackles Marlon Walls and Arthur Jeffery -- could also become factors.

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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