By JOHN MOOREHOUSE
1) Is Cutcliffe the answer?
After an underachieving year by the offense, Phillip Fulmer literally went "old school" to fix the problem, bringing back David Cutcliffe after the resignation of Randy Sanders. The Vols compiled a record of 62-11 during Cutcliffe's previous stint as coordinator, before he left to take over the Ole Miss program. From a schematic standpoint, there wasn't much difference between the offense Cutcliffe ran and the one employed by Sanders, who learned under Cutcliffe. However, last year the explosive capability of the Vols' offense was noticeably absent. Meanwhile, consider this. If Cutcliffe succeeds this coming season, he'll be one of the hot names surrounding any head coaching vacancy. Should Cutcliffe bolt, we'll be evaluating some other guy's effectiveness as offensive coordinator a year from now.
2) Who's the quarterback?
Talk about another case of déjà vu. For the third consecutive spring, the Vols face a quarterback controversy. Rising junior Erik Ainge enters the spring atop the depth chart at signal- caller after a dismal season last fall. As it turns out, he played much of the campaign with a nagging turf toe problem. It's Cutcliffe's job to try and help Ainge recapture the magic he at times displayed as a freshman. Don't forget about redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton, a highly touted recruit who missed all of last year recovering from shoulder surgery. Either way, you'd think Fulmer and Co. would do their darnedest to avoid another shuffling of quarterbacks, as was the case last season.
3) Who will step up at linebacker?
Somebody needs to, because all three starters from last season were seniors. As of now, the top healthy candidates are Ryan Karl, Ellix Wilson and Marvin Mitchell. Big things are expected of redshirt freshman Rico McCoy, who has the same kind of buzz that surrounded tailback Arian Foster coming out of his redshirt year. Perhaps the best linebacker on next season's team won't be available this spring due to knee surgery. Jerod Mayo received high praise from veterans like Kevin Simon and Omar Gaither this past fall, and they said he had the potential to be the next great UT linebacker.
4) Can Trooper turn around the receivers?
In 2005, Bret Smith, Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain combined for 1,138 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last fall, that same trio combined for 986 yards and just seven TDs as part of an underachieving year for receiving corps that embodied the disappointing results of the season. Enter Trooper Taylor, who moves over to coach the wideouts after two years managing the running backs.
5) Is this Turk McBride's season?
For years, people have been talking about the potential of the soft-spoken giant from
There's no reason McBride can't follow that trend.