UT: 3 reasons for big expectations, 3 reasons for big worries

UT: 3 reasons for big expectations, 3 reasons for big worries

August 28th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee offensive linemen, from right, Alex Bullard, James Stone, Brock Collier and Mack Crowder line up for a drill during NCAA college football practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. Tennessee will play Montana Sept. 3 for their season opener at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Brimer)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

BIG EXPECTATIONS

1 - What quarterback Tyler Bray did for the Vols offensively down the stretch last season has created a high level of expectations and excitement for how good UT's offense could be. Bray tossed 18 touchdowns in a little more than five games, and now he'll have a full season to lead the Vols' offense.

2 - The offensive line. The Vols broke in a whole new offensive line last season, but now that group returns intact and a year older, stronger and used to everything. The coaching staff feels it has a couple of potential superstars among its sophomore trio of Ja'Wuan James, Zach Fulton and James Stone, and Alex Bullard's (pictured) versatility is an asset.

3 - Unlike last season, the Vols have some depth, talent and size in the secondary, which is key considering the inexperience and youth up front. Safety Brent Brewer is the group's physical presence, Prentiss Waggner and Byron Moore can play safety and corner and Marsalis Teague, Justin Coleman and Izauea Lanier can hold down the corner spots.

BIG WORRIES

1 - Outside of Malik Jackson and Jacques Smith, the Vols have unproven and undersized players in their defensive-line rotation. Despite the talent and immediate ascension of freshmen A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt to the top of the linebacker depth chart, that position is still an area for concern.

2 - Young teams must learn how to work and improve every day, win close games and handle success. The freshmen and sophomores the Vols have are talented, but there's still going to be mistakes and growing pains.

3 - The Vols were mediocre on their coverage teams, but the punt and kickoff return games have lacked a spark during recent seasons. In kicker Michael Palardy and punter Matt Darr, UT has two young specialists who have yet to prove they can come through in a big moment - and most big special teams plays are game-changers.