Tennessee running back Tauren Poole barely surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season, but that had no influence on his blocking buddies. Shortly after the 2010 season ended, his offensive linemen identified Poole with another number.
And it wasn't the No. 28 on his jersey. They began talking about a 2,000-yard season for their senior running back.
"That's bold," Poole said with a smile at SEC Football Media Days last month.
It's not just bold. It's unheard of in the SEC.
Former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker of Georgia holds the SEC single-season rushing record of 1,891 yards (1981). Only two other SEC players have rushed for as many as 1,700 yards in a season.
So the mere suggestion of a 2,000-yard rushing season is — I'll put this as tactfully as possible — ridiculous. In fact, it's so absurd, why stop there? How about 5,000 yards passing for Tyler Bray? Or 120 catches for Justin Hunter
— and Da'Rick Rogers?
As silly as 2,000 yards might sound, the thinking behind it isn't. In fact, UT fans probably welcome it.
Setting your sights high is certainly more embraceable than the mediocre marks the Vols have been posting. This is no time for discouraging bold goals.
The team is a consensus pick to finish fourth in the SEC East. The defensive front seven doesn't rank that high. But the offense fosters fantasies — as well as fond memories.
Even in the 1990s when the Vols averaged almost 10 wins per season, the defense sometimes lagged behind the offense. When the defense caught up, UT won a national championship.
Those offenses came with few doubts attached. UT fans couldn't count on beating Florida or winning a championship, but they usually could rely on an offense that scored 40 or more points 38 times in the decade.
There's no such certainty about the 2011 offense. There's at least promise.
The offensive line returns intact and has been fortified by new arrivals, including freshman Marcus Jackson, a possible starter.
Poole and backup Rajion Neal are back. So are sophomore wide receivers Hunter and Rogers, who at least have shown the potential to be regarded as possible big-time players, as has sophomore quarterback Bray.
Much of UT's offensive potential is based on what the Vols did in four consecutive victories to end the 2010 regular season. They averaged 37.5 points per game against Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. That average is tempered somewhat in that it was achieved against teams who gave up an average of 33.8 points per game.
But in evaluating this offense, you also have to consider the experience gained since the 2010 opener. And you can't rule out the possibility that running back Marlin Lane and receivers Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett could have an impact as freshmen.
There just might be enough talent on hand for the Vols to field their best offense since 2007 — even if they don't have a 2,000-yard rusher.