published Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Greeson: Questions about fall big in July

Selected players of the University of Tennessee football team will meet with the media this afternoon.

The names of these selected Volunteers are not yet known, but there are several players facing a litany of issues that range from casual to crucial.

Will Eric Berry be the best player in America?

Best player, probably not. Best defensive player, you bet.

I think Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant and any of three Heisman-worthy quarterbacks will duke it out for the postseason honors and awards, but no one is better than Berry. He's been the ultimate game-changer -- and a year under secondary genius and Cover-2 guru Monte Kiffin's tutelage should make him even better.

Can the Vols offense be better?

You bet. First, it can't be much worse. Second, the coaching staff overhaul happened primarily because of the offensive struggles, and a clear slate may be a much-needed kick-start. Third, an experienced offensive line has to be viewed as an advantage. Fourth, the infusion of young talent -- highlighted by Bryce Brown -- will give the offense more explosion, even if it's inexperienced.

And it's not just the Vols who are preparing their standard answers about goals and working hard or rehearsing phrases such as "playing like you practice" and "being competitive." The entire SEC is starting to look to next week's media event in Birmingham. And the issues are just as pressing -- and just as debatable.

Which new starting quarterback will have the most success?

With all apologies to Georgia's Joe Cox, who has been getting strong reviews in Athens during the offseason, Alabama's Greg McElroy is in the best position to have a breakthrough debut season as a starter. McElroy has the benefits of better running backs and a stout defense that will make 21 points seem like 40.

After spending the last two seasons as John Parker Wilson's understudy, McElroy won MVP honors at Alabama's spring scrimmage. He completed 16 of 20 passes in mostly mop-up duty the last two seasons, but he has experience at waiting his turn.

He spent most of his high school career wearing a ball cap rather than a helmet, waiting in the wings at Southlake (Texas) Carroll behind former Missouri star and 2004 national prep player of the year Chase Daniel. McElroy started only as a senior, and the results were, well, pretty good. He generated 4,687 yards and 56 touchdowns and led his team to the Texas 5A state championship and a mythical national title.

Who will be the SEC's breakout star?

After a summer of weightlifting and voluntary workouts, the ultimate answers won't be known until Saturdays in the fall -- despite the anticipation with which these answers are welcomed.

In fact, the mid-July answers may not be as pertinent as the mid-July questions, and the one that has most of the Big Orange gloved hands wringing this morning hinges on which players will join the ones who are already in Knoxville.

Word circulated Monday that Chase Rettig, a highly touted high school quarterback prospect, picked Boston College over Tennessee.

"I felt I didn't need to wait any longer, because I felt comfortable with my choice," Rettig told Rivals.com. "BC was the first team to offer me, and that showed their commitment to me. It was nothing that BC or Tennessee did right or wrong. It was more about a feeling I had."

That marks another quarterback target off the Vols' recruiting list, and while it's impossible to gauge which high school player will be truly four-star-worthy three years from now, UT's need for a quarterback in this recruiting cycle is paramount.

Rettig joins other big-time prep quarterbacks such as Jake Heaps, Andrew Hendrix and Barry Brunetti who flirted with UT before going elsewhere. Rettig's decision increases the interest and importance of UT's pursuit of Jesse Scroggins, a highly ranked California quarterback who has a final three of Florida, Southern California and the Vols.

If the Vols fail to add Scroggins -- or a quarterback-of-the-future type of player -- a lot of the same questions they face in the next few days will be heard for the next few years.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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