By Eric Mathews
After a below-.500 record during the 2005 campaign, the Tennessee Volunteers put themselves back on the national map in 2006 with a 9-3 regular season record. With senior quarterback Erik Ainge back at the helm for his final year, the 2007 Vols look to be legitimate SEC contenders. Here's a preview of what can be expected on the offensive side of the ball for Tennessee:
Quarterback: Last year's quarterback, Erik Ainge returns for his senior season. Ainge completed 67 percent of his passes a season ago to become most accurate passer in school history. He also threw for 19 touchdowns with only 9 interceptions. While Ainge is the Vols' starter, backup Jonathan Crompton will see the field some this year as well. Crompton replaced Ainge against LSU in 2006 and threw for two touchdowns in Tennessee's last-second loss to the Tigers. He also started and played the whole game in a loss to Arkansas. Redshirt freshman Nick Stephens and true freshman B.J. Coleman round out the quarterbacks.
Tailback: Tennessee returns multiple backs that saw the field last season. With LaMarcus Coker, Montario Hardesty and Arian Foster returning, theh 2007 Vols have many options at tailback In 2006, Coker had 696 yards on 108 carries and five touchdowns and Hardesty ran for 384 yards on 107 carries with four touchdowns. Foster ran 91 times for 322 yards and three scores despite being limited by injuries for most of the season. Also look for true freshman Lennon Creer to get some opportunites to carry the ball in 2007.
Tight End: Chris Brown is the team's returning receptions leader after the departure of virtually the entire receiving corps. Brown caught 31 passes for 235 yards in 2006, averaging 7.7 yards per catch. Brad Cottam caught 14 passes in 2006 and looked to be poised for a breakout season before a breaking a wrist in the Vols' final preseason scrimmage. Jeff Cottam, Brad 's younger brother, and freshman Luke Stocker will be counted on to step up in place of the elder Cottam.
Wide Receiver: The biggest question for the Vols' offense this year is at wide receiver. With the departures of Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith, the Vols have some serious holes to fill. The three combined to catch 159 passes in 2006. Returning players Josh Briscoe, Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers and Quintin Hancock will get every opportunity in the passing game, however, the group has combined for only 31 catches in their careers at Tennessee. Also look for true freshmen Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones, as well as junior college transfer Kenny O'neal to get chances to make an impact out wide for the Vols in 2007.
Offensive Line: The loss of tackle Arron Sears ane guard David Ligon have left a few holes in the offensive line. Anthony Parker and Eric Young will man a guard and tackle position, respectively. Josh McNeil is primed for his second year at center and is quickly becoming one of the SEC's star linemen. The other two starters for the season opener against Cal will be Ramon Foster at tackle and Chris Scott at guard. Other players who will see the field include sophomores Jacques McClendon and Vladimir Richard, and freshman Ramone Johnson.