• With Tyler Bray at quarterback and Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers at receiver, Tennessee’s passing game has the potential to be difficult to defend. A good throwing game also could open running lanes for the Vols, who will need to be two-dimensional. Given the transitional state of the defense, UT’s offense might be forced to score a slew of points, especially early.
• It’s difficult to call the offensive line a strength after last season’s struggles in run blocking, but collectively the unit has no excuse for not being noticeably improved. The simplest way to improve the ground game from the line’s perspective is simply playing more physically. The line has made that its focal point, but will the work pay off?
• The Vols are transitioning on defense with some question marks, but coordinator Sal Sunseri should have some playmakers at his disposable. Linebackers Herman Lathers, A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt may have to do the heavy lifting with the production and communication. Coach Derek Dooley said this month there’s more options, meaning some players will fill more specialized roles.
• How do the Vols respond to adversity? Negative plays snowballed last season and ended with UT on the wrong end of some blowouts. Those growing pains should better equip the Vols to handle situations when things go against them, but it’s something the team must prove.
• The Vols were outscored 139-36 after halftime in SEC games in 2011. The better experience and depth on the roster should help solve some of those second-half woes, but the coaching staff has some responsibility as well. With seven new faces and an entirely new defensive staff, how well will UT make adjustments and avoid similar second-half woes?
• It took Georgia’s defense about a season to settle in after switching to a 3-4 defense, so the recent history shows there’s a transition period. The Vols’ aim with the scheme change was the creation of more negative plays, and that aggressive style may make UT more susceptible to big plays. With two key games in the season’s first three weeks, UT’s coaching staff must put the defense in position to make plays while also limiting mistakes.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...