Woopig Tennessee Bureau – The start of new head coach Lane Kiffin’s tenure begins on the field September 5th, but it did not take him very long to make waves around the league shortly after being hired at the University of Tennessee. The ruffling of feathers with Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, and Mike Slive certainly showed his lack of experience as a head coach. Kiffin, however has quickly assembled a strong coaching staff. This staff includes new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, best known for coaching the Drew Brees-led Purdue offenses in the late 90′s. Former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron was hired to coach the defensive line, and has produced off the field nicely in Kiffin’s first recruiting class. The defensive coordinator duties are now led by Monte Kiffin, who helped orchestrate some of the best defenses in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Lane Kiffin is hoping these new hires will pay dividends, since the team is needing some direction after coming off a very disappointing 5-7 season last year.
The offensive success will hinge mightily on the quarterback position. Seniors Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens will vie for the position this fall. The offensive line lacks depth, but is solid on the starting five, anchored by Senior center Josh McNeil. The Vols will feature two of the most highly recruited running backs this year in Freshmen David Oku, and Bryce Brown. Junior wideout Gerald Jones returns to lead the receiving corps. Jones managed to get over 500 yards of total offense last year and 5 TDs despite a very dysfunctional offensive gameplan. The 2008 Vols were ranked 115th in the nation in total offense, and finished 11th in the SEC. Offensively, the Vols should have nowhere to go but up this season.
Defensively, the Vols did well in 2008. The team finished 3rd nationally in total defense, and 1st in the SEC. Unfortunately, first round draft pick DE Robert Ayers is gone to the NFL. Other key losses include, DT Demonte Bolden, LB Ellix Wilson, and S Dee Morley, leaving the Vols with significant holes in their defense. The defensive line is woefully thin, anchored by Senior DT Dan Williams. The linebacking corps are led by Senior LB Rico McCoy who tallied 87 tackles last year. No doubt the strength of the defense is the secondary, led by first team All-America candidate, SS Eric Berry. The Heisman candidate safety had 7 interceptions for 265 return yards last season. Berry is also an incredibly powerful hitter (just ask Knowshon Moreno). Berry also enters 2009 as the SEC’s all-time interception return yardage leader and is only one 15-yard return away from claiming the all time NCAA record currently held by former FSU standout Terrell Buckley. The Vols will rely heavily on his leadership, and the defense will have to put out a tremendous effort each Saturday until the offense catches up if the team is to have any chance of success.
Most Vol fans realize this season could be a rough one. Lack of depth plus a few key injuries, and the season could quickly spiral downward for the Vols. However, if some of the younger players step up, especially on offense, a .500 season is within reach for the 2009 Volunteers.