Vols ponder Randall Cobb equation in upcoming Kentucky game
Almost without fail, the first name that comes up is the same.
When it comes time to discuss how to stop Kentucky, Tennessee is well aware its defensive mission starts with do-it-all weapon Randall Cobb.
But that's not where it ends, and the Vols have had no trouble rattling off a lengthy list of players that gives them plenty to prepare for with the Wildcats coming to Neyland Stadium for the regular-season finale on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.).
"They have the formula," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "They have a veteran quarterback, they have two receivers that can pierce you, one of them being an all-purpose guy who's a phenomenal player they can move all over the field, and they have a good solid, excellent running back. When you have all those parts in place, you're going to be good - and they are good.
"You look at the two teams going to the SEC championship game, they beat one (South Carolina), and the other one (Auburn) who not many teams have come close to beating, they're sitting there tied with them midway through the fourth quarter. We've got our hands full."
Cobb alone is enough to cause major problems for a defense, particularly given a diverse set of skills that allows the Wildcats (6-5, 2-5 SEC) to also use the receiver as a rusher or quarterback in their WildCobb formation.
But quarterback Mike Hartline is playing at the highest level of his career and comes into the weekend second in the league in passing yardage. Despite missing time with injury, running back Derrick Locke has averaged more than 100 yards in his seven games this season. And though Cobb is clearly the top target in the passing game, the Vols (5-6, 2-5) and their improving secondary will also have to worry about two more big, physical receivers in Chris Matthews and La'Rod King.
"That's one thing we noticed in the film room when we started watching it," cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "Not only is Randall Cobb very explosive, but they have a lot of size at the receiver with the King and Matthews kids.
"To say they're so big (at least 6-4), they also know how to make plays on the ball and they position themselves very well, something like a basketball player."
Waggner is capable of going up and banging with them at 6-2 himself, and collectively the Vols have shown a better ability to box out receivers lately with nine interceptions in the last three games.
But the critical test is coming - and not just in the secondary.
"They've got a great running back in Locke, their line is solid, and they've got two solid receivers to go along with him," defensive end Gerald Williams said. "They'll really compete."
Follow The Leaders: The season captains don't necessarily hold that title officially all year, but the election process Dooley employs before the final game of the regular season ensures they were acting like it the whole time.
The votes came in this week, with the Vols appointing linebacker Nick Reveiz, tight end Luke Stocker and running back Tauren Poole with the honor.
"I'm trying to promote leadership throughout the year," Dooley said. "I told the team before they voted there are several qualities they should look for in a captain, one of them, of course, is doing your job, that you're putting it all in with great passion and the team can count on you to do your job every day. The second thing is your ability to affect others in a positive way - does that person not only do his job, but then also help others to do their job. Then third, he represents all the values of the organization and gives it to the team.
"Those three guys fit all the criteria, so I think the team made some great decisions."
Bumps And Bruises: The Vols continue to limit the reps for quarterback Tyler Bray during the open portion of practice with some soreness in his right shoulder, but it's not expected to keep him out of the lineup against Kentucky or affect his throwing motion.
Cornerback Prentiss Waggner and wide receiver Zach Rogers were both in red, non-contact jerseys, but Dooley didn't indicate there were any pressing injury concerns for UT this week.
"Nothing new," Dooley said. "I think a lot of the guys, we've had some guys banged up and we're recovering.
"Lot of guys we've been kind of limiting out there, and hopefully it will help on Saturday."