Wiedmer: Vols know selves enough to know they must throw

Wiedmer: Vols know selves enough to know they must throw

August 28th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UT's head coach Derek Dooley takes the field in this file photo.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - In both sports and life there's a lot to be said for knowing who you are.

So it was both invigorating and informative to hear University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley say of Friday night's season opener against North Carolina State: "We're going to throw it whether we have experience or not."

Yeah, throw it. All over the field. Maybe all the time. Da'Rick Rogers or no Da' Rick Rogers. N.C. State defensive back extraordinaire David Amerson or no Amerson.

And to heck with that supposed Georgia Dome jinx, with the Big Orange having lost six straight times inside the Big Peach's indoor palace.

This is not to dismiss all the talk about an improved UT running game. That may be true. It probably needs to be true if the Volunteers ultimately are to thrive in the Southeastern Conference.

But running was far from what the Vols did best last season, the rushing game finishing dead last in the SEC -- a paltry, putrid average of 90.1 yards, which was more than 34 yards a game in back of 11th-place Kentucky.

On the flip side, the Vols were third in passing a year ago despite quarterback Tyler Bray missing nearly half the season with an injury. Arguably the best pure passer in the league, Bray now is a junior, carrying at least 15 extra pounds of muscle and 16 games worth of experience.

In other words, run and be done. Or throw and grow.

This isn't to say UT's experienced, massive line can't run-block. It just seems that it appears more capable of consistently delivering Bray enough time to find the most dangerous receiving duo in the league in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.

And just in case the Wolfpack somehow find a way to contain those two, senior Zach Rogers is a vastly underrated third banana. Toss in sophomore Vincent Dallas, whose bulging biceps call to mind the dismissed Da'Rick, and this collection of wideouts may still be the SEC's best.

Yet Da'Rick Rogers' exit also makes senior tight end Mychal Rivera a far more indispensable player than he might have been.

"He is a big target," Hunter said of the 6-foot-3, 244-pounder Monday. "Mychal was a big target last year, and he will be this year because we need more veterans out there on the field."

Added Bray: "Oh, I'm always going to try to get Mychal the ball. He's definitely a big target, and he's a lot faster than a year ago. He's also able to last a lot longer on the field this year. He's really in great shape."

Indeed, Rivera has dropped 10 pounds from a year ago, largely due to "cutting out french fries and junk food at McDonald's. I'm trying to eat like a pro and act like a pro."

Rivera wasn't awful last season, catching at least one pass in 10 of the Vols' 12 games. He finished with 344 yards and a single TD against Florida. But Bray's return to health figures to increase his productivity dramatically.

"Being a fifth-year senior and Tyler being back, I felt like my numbers would increase," Rivera said. "But we still had all those wideouts. Now that we've lost a thousand-yard receiver, it might be a different situation for me."

When it comes to body weight, there are few more different situations than those of Hunter and Rivera.

While the tight end spent the summer denying himself his favorite foods, Hunter routinely gorged himself on fried chicken and ice cream in hopes of adding a few pounds to his slender frame.

"I eat like a fat kid," Hunter said with a laugh. "I just can't seem to gain any weight."

The Big Orange Nation has waited more than nine months to get the bad taste of the 2011 season out of its mouth. As Dooley said Monday, time to throw caution -- and a whole lot of passes -- to the wind.