Stokes’ Stance on UT Football
Spring practice has been over with for a couple of weeks now so this is a little late, but I’ve had a good little while to think about how I really wanted to wrap the first spring under Butch Jones up. I’m sure y’all have heard some of this from me on The Swain Event and The Chris Treece Show, but some of it you may not have. So here goes.
The situation that Coach Jones walked into isn’t as awful as what Dooley inherited, but it isn’t much better. The roster has some talent on it, just not what you need throughout the two deep to really win a lot of games in SEC play. The bulk of the talent left for the draft as well as some upper class leadership on defense. What is left is a complete flip-flop from last season in terms of where the play makers are on the field. Last season, all of the fire power was on offense with all of the youth on defense. This season, the upper classmen and the majority of talent is on the defensive side of the ball with the question marks and youth/inexperience being on the offensive side of things.
There have been some positives and some negatives about the program that I have noticed since Coach Jones and company have arrived on campus. I’ll start with the negatives first, mainly because I want to end this thing on a high note.
The talent deficiency has been well covered and talked about so I won’t go into much detail on that, but the fact of the matter is that top to bottom this team does not have the horses to run with the big boys of the SEC all season. If you think that Tennessee does then you may want to put down whatever you are drinking and/or smoking, remove your orange glasses and really take a look at things. I’m not saying there isn’t any talent because that would be a lie, but it isn’t where it needs to be to walk into the Swamp or into Tuscaloosa and get a win right now.
The experience and leadership on offense leaves a lot to be desired right now. O-line and running back aside, there aren’t many players that have significant snaps or have been any sort of impact players lining up on offense right now. Sure Worley is a junior and started on the road against Arkansas in 2011, played a couple of series against Alabama in Tuscaloosa that same year,and started a home game against South Carolina; but outside of that his experience is very limited. Vincent Dallas is also a junior but has played on both sides of the ball since arriving and hasn’t made much of an impact either way. He had a couple of nice catches last season but that’s about it and spent a lot of spring ball on the sideline with a concussion. Jacob Carter is also a junior but is a walk on. The tight end position is a huge question mark as is receiver and the fact that not a single running back was able to really step up and snag the role of “the man” worries me a bit.
Eric Gordon and Marlin Lane not being with the team for a lot of spring practice isn’t a great thing. I don’t know if either will rejoin the team in the summer or for fall camp, they both have some things to do before that can happen. I hope that they rectify whatever issues there are and can be contributors this year because we all know that this team needs them. Early Lane looked like the clear-cut favorite to get the starter’s reps at tailback and Gordon is a senior this season that has a lot of ability and with the departure of Daniel Gray is a body that the secondary really needs.
The attitude of this team since the arrival of Jones has been phenomenal. You don’t really have a group of players that are hesitant to jump aboard the rise to the top movement and it’s showing through togetherness, player recruiting and the improvement that I saw first hand from spring practice number one to the orange and white game. The team hit the ground running with strength and conditioning coach Dave Lawson this winter and by all accounts begs to be coached and told what to do to improve.
The experience and leadership on defense has really impressed me. Following some of the players’ twitter accounts and just watching them in practice you can tell that this is a group with a chip on their collective shoulder. They were embarrassed last season and do not want to repeat the horrendous play of 2012. The 4-3 fits this unit much better and with A.J. Johnson really embracing his role as the leader of this John Jancek led defense, I feel pretty confident about what we will see on the field this season. There is nice depth at safety, some linebackers are starting to emerge and with players like Daniel McCullers, Daniel Hood and Mo Couch on the defensive line; it’s a unit that should be pretty salty. Obviously they need Jac Smith to play like he is capable of and Curt Maggitt to come back healthy and ready to roll, but I personally feel pretty damn good about the defensive side of the ball. Gotta get a corner to step up opposite of Coleman though.
Recruiting and the public image of the program as a whole has been wonderful since Coach Jones arrived. The Vols are currently ranked in the top 5 nationally in recruiting with rankings from 3rd-5th depending on the service, and you are
seeing nothing but positive articles and endorsements about Jones and UT all over the place. The 180 degree turnaround that has happened since the hiring of Butch Jones has been amazing to watch. I haven’t seen this much legitimate excitement on Rocky Top in a number of years. I really do think that the black cloud has left the UT football complex and the sun is starting to shine.
In summation, Coach Jones has gone to great lengths to improve fan/university relations as well as former player/university relations and the results are showing with positivity. Recruiting is rolling and all but a player or two has bought in to what this staff is preaching. The win column probably will not reflect the good that has been accomplished to this point, but the actual on field product will be one that Vol fans can be proud of and if they keep recruiting at this pace, the talent deficiency will quickly go away. I think the number one expectation for Tennessee fans this season should be a competitive product that will fight for four quarters and not lay down for anyone, followed by continued success on the recruiting trail. I think this team may jump up and bite a team they aren’t supposed to and finish this season with a winning record and a bowl berth. If that does happen, this season will be quite a success and should catapult the program to even greater things in the near future. I do believe Butch Jones will have Tennessee back in Atlanta in December within a couple of seasons and even though Tennessee will face a hardship or two along the way, the worst is behind us and good things are on the horizon. There is a lot of work to be done but it will get done and Vol fans will be happy in time.