For Sporting News
A capsule look at Tennessee, ranked No. 18 in Sporting News' 2006 College Football Preview.
Look for a renewed interest in the screen pass in coordinator David Cutcliffe's return. Ideally, Cutcliffe will help quarterback Erik Ainge regain his composure and production. But if Ainge falters again, Jonathan Crompton has the tools to play in the SEC. Running back Arian Foster isn't a speedster, but his vision and hard-nosed style key the running game. The receivers flopped last fall, and they need to run more disciplined routes and drop fewer balls to reach their potential. Coach Philip Fulmer also wants the line to be more physical in the running game.
Everything starts up front with stopping the run, but John Chavis isn't afraid to bring pressure from a variety of angles. There is reloading to do on the line, but it will come through. There is a lot of talent at linebacker but not much experience. Big things are expected of outside 'backer Rico McCoy, but he must earn the starting spot. The secondary should be solid, with most significant contributors back. Corner Jonathan Wade has flashed big-play ability, but the safeties must be tougher against the run.
Two bad years in a row are unacceptable at Tennessee, and Fulmer showed he was taking things seriously when he fired two coaches. Bringing back Cutcliffe should help, and the defense has responded to Chavis' no-nonsense demeanor.
AN SEC COACH SAYS
QB Erik Ainge hasn't lost the talent he showed as a freshman; he just needs someone to bring it back out. David Cutcliffe is one of the game's best teachers. Tennessee's season hinges on how well Ainge responds to Cutcliffe. . . . If I'm making the calls, I'm giving RB Arian Foster the ball 30 times a game and taking my chances. . . . You look at WRs Robert Meachem and Bret Smith and wonder how they're not dominating any defensive back trying to cover them.
The Vols aren't ready to think BCS this season. The goal should be recovering sufficiently so they can take that step in 2007.
Stadium: Neyland Stadium/ Shields-Watkins Field (grass, 104,079)
Site: Knoxville, Tenn.
Coach: Phillip Fulmer (128-37, 14 years; 29th at school)
Offensive coordinator: David Cutcliffe (1st year, 18th at school)
Defensive coordinator: John Chavis (12th year, 19th at school)
Offensive scheme: Multiple
Defensive scheme: 4-3
Last league title won: 1998
Last bowl appearance: 2004
2005 record: 5-6, 3-5/T4th SEC East