After a frustrating 2005 season, with a losing record for the first time in nearly 2 decades, and no post season bowl game of any sort (thanks to Vanderbilt), the Tennessee Volunteers begin the 2006 season with a good dose both of promise and of questions.
One of the biggest moves of the offseason was the return of David Cutcliffe to Rocky Top, to become, again, the Offensive Coordinator. The other was a firm decision was made by Head Coach Phillip Fulmer, in stating junior Erik Ainge will be THE QB this year, and if coach Cutcliffe can do with Ainge what he did with Peyton Manning, it could really be something special. Ainge will have an experienced, good size tandem behind him to run the ball, with the return of sophomore running back Arian Foster (879 yards in 11 games), and senior Cory Anderson, a bulldozer of a full back, all 6' 3" and 275 lbs of him (NFL scouts are very high on the kid!). Receivers returning include TE Chris Brown and seniot WR Jayson Swain, and with having one absolute QB this season, the receiving squad should show improvement!
The offensive question mark - the offensive line, where senior Arron Sears is the lone returner. While the replacements for the three departed '05 starters will be young, they will not be totally unexperienced, and not only is this a question area, but also one with the potential to be a solid unit, in time. Defensively, same thing as the offense - lack of experience on the front line. Three of the four starting defensive line players departed, and to add even more wondering, all three starting linebackers from '05 have moved on, 2 of them to the NFL.
Still, "those who stay will play" has never been more true at Tennessee than this season, and there are sophomores and juniors who have the desire to step up, and the opportunity to show what skills they have. Surprisingly, the Defensive Backs unit is the strong point for the Vol's defense for the first time in years!! Jonathan Hefney, Jonathan Wade, Inquoris Johnson, and Antwan Stewart form one of the best DB groups in the SEC and the NCAA, and they look to provide headaches for plenty of wide receivers, and their QBs!
The University of California Golden Bears are somewhat of an unknown commodity to Volunteers fans. A member of the Pac 10 conference, they have steadily gained attention, nationally, finishing last season with an 8 - 4 record, which included a Las Vegas Bowl win over the Brigham Young Cougars. In the Athlon Preseaon poll, both the Vols and Golden Bears are ranked in the Top 25, with Cal sitting at # 8. This appears to be a game in which the Big Orange youngsters will do some quick growing into their positions, and though Cal likely will be favored, you can rest assured, there will be over 100,000 loyal Tennessee fans pushing for a Volunteers upset!
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