By CHRIS LOW
"We've all worked really hard since January to get that back." Here are five questions the Vols need to answer this preseason if they're indeed going to get it back:
1. Can quarterback Erik Ainge regain his confidence and play the game without pressing? Not having a quarterback controversy will help. Ainge took a big step in the spring toward regaining his teammates' trust and looked much more comfortable after Cutcliffe let it be known that Ainge was his starter. Ainge has the ability. That's never been an issue. The real key will be how much his decision-making and poise under the gun have improved with Cutcliffe on the scene.
2. Can the offense be potent enough, early enough, to win a scoring match if it has to against
3. Will Cutcliffe's presence help alleviate the Vols' struggles on key downs last season and their propensity to self-destruct? Nobody is expecting any overnight miracles, but Fulmer does believe the Vols will have fewer wasted plays, be more conscious of field position and generally be more efficient under Cutcliffe. They will need to be, because while the talent is still there, you don't see the likes of Peyton Manning, Jamal Lewis, Peerless Price, Chad Clifton, Cosey Coleman and Fred Weary walking around campus anymore.
4. How long will it take to identify the best combination in the offensive line? Arron Sears is a fixture at left tackle and might move around some depending on the matchups. David Ligon will also be in there somewhere. The Vols would prefer to play Ligon at guard, which means redshirt freshman Josh McNeil will get every chance to win the center job. The Vols need a big season from Eric Young at left tackle and would love to see redshirt freshman Chris Scott make a move after reshaping his body. Just about everybody's lost weight up front.
5. Who emerges as the Vols' playmaker (or playmakers) on defense? Redshirt freshman linebacker Rico McCoy is one to watch. Tackle Justin Harrell is NFL material, and Turk McBride has the versatility to play tackle or end. J.T. Mapu could also be a force at tackle if he rounds into football shape quickly. This is the most experience the Vols have had in the secondary in some time. Free safety Jonathan Hefney could be primed for a big year.