Mike Strange: Forget the spring depth chart

Mike Strange
Tennessee defensive backs Byron Moore, left, and Art Evans, right, collide during a drill prior to a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011.  The Vols will play the Montana Grizzlies Sept. 3 in Knoxville for their season opener.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee defensive backs Byron Moore, left, and Art Evans, right, collide during a drill prior to a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011. The Vols will play the Montana Grizzlies Sept. 3 in Knoxville for their season opener. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

You've battled through spring practice and come out on top. You've won the starting job on an SEC football team.

The preseason media guide arrives and there's your name on top of the depth chart. It's even written in boldface because you're the starter.

So when, exactly, do you pump your fist and celebrate?

"Never,'' Daryl Vereen said with conviction Tuesday. "Never.

"It's never your spot. There's always somebody that's coming for it. You've got to come to work.''

Vereen is no freshman in the school of hard knocks. A senior who has moved from running back to safety to outside linebacker and given up his body on special teams, he emerged from spring as Tennessee's starting "Sam" linebacker.

He started one game last fall. But in 2011, he would be out there with the No. 1 defense in front of 100,000 fans on opening day.

Or not.

The depth chart that shaped up at the end of spring is already looking obsolete. The cavalry has arrived in the form of Derek Dooley's latest recruiting class.

The Vols held their first scrimmage of camp Tuesday at Neyland Stadium. It's a whole new deal from the Orange & White Game.

"It looks significantly different at a lot of positions,'' Dooley said, comparing April to August.

Different as in deeper, bigger, more physical, more athletic. When the No. 1 defense took the field

Tuesday, true freshmen Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson went out ahead of Vereen and John Probst at linebacker.

"Those guys are big and physical,'' said Dooley, not even attempting to disguise his enthusiasm. "They're playing fast and aggressive. They just bring a presence we have not had at the linebacker position.''

Anthony Anderson, another senior on top of the preseason depth chart at cornerback, appears to have been overtaken by true freshman Justin Coleman.

Daniel Hood, a pleasant spring surprise as an emerging starter at defensive tackle, is fighting to keep his spot against the challenge of junior college transfer Maurice Couch.

"If he's a better player at this position, then go,'' Hood said, "because I'd rather see us get 10 wins and me playing no snaps than us getting no wins and me playing 40 snaps.''

Hood has been holding his ground nicely, but it's still early.

Dooley has shown no reluctance to push newcomers into the line of fire at the expense of veterans. In 2010, nine different freshmen combined for 52 starts.

"We're so used to playing freshmen around here,'' said Dooley, "we don't know what it's like not to have to get a freshman ready to play.''

So for veterans who have paid their dues, it's a bittersweet dilemma. You help the new guys through the transition to college, even though you know they're coming for your job.

It's part of the game. Quarterback Matt Simms did it last year, lending a helping veteran hand to young Tyler Bray, who took Simms' job in November and never looked back.

Vereen said he "bleeds orange." Thus, if his role is reduced to playing only in specific formations, he'll still show young Maggitt the ropes and cheer him on.

And feeling sorry for yourself is not allowed.

"You've got to keep your head up and go with the blows,'' Vereen said.

"If you keep your head down, you'll get left behind.''

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 22

keepitreal4vols writes:

in response to VOL_GOD:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

THIRD--Thanks for the reminder.

movol77 writes:

in response to keepitreal4vols:

THIRD--Thanks for the reminder.

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

jack_2222#231746 writes:

On the right track. Every day.

FeelVol writes:

I love Coach Dooleys' approach of giving the freshmen an opportunity to play.

orangegrass writes:

Finally - a coach that will play freshman players who are obviously more talented! To bad another coach did not do the same.

msinva writes:

in response to orangegrass:

Finally - a coach that will play freshman players who are obviously more talented! To bad another coach did not do the same.

Very true...I loved CPF, but this was one of his biggest problems IMO. They always seemed to be ready just after we played FL or AL.

usnavyvol writes:

in response to Dead_Head_Vol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Agree...we are so under the radar it's not even funny. We upgraded talent wise in almost every position and return several starters. This I hops is the beginning of some serious Vol payback to a few teams that need to get smacked in the mouth (and their bandwagon fans)..GO VOLS...

orangeman1 writes:

in response to msinva:

Very true...I loved CPF, but this was one of his biggest problems IMO. They always seemed to be ready just after we played FL or AL.

I can think of several players that Fulmer played as a freshmen. Do you have any specifice examples? Just wondering since you think it was one of his biggest problems. I remember alot of people saying Arian Foster wasnt as good as Hardesty and he shouldve been benched, then he went on the be one of the best RB in the NFL. I just think when a team is doing underachieving, the fans always think the backups are better. I think Dooley knows he has a couple of years before people start expecting championships again and that is even more incentive to play younger guys. I also think he is doing what it takes to turn UT into a competetive football team again. I guess time will tell.

CapitolC writes:

You have to like Dooley's approach. All effort focused on getting back to the top. Hopefully it will translate to wins. If not, the AD job will still be open.

VOLliven2it writes:

You know some pathetic people on here are sad.We have no idea how many games the Vols win in Dooley's third season. We do not know this year. If we see progress in the face of what he began with, which was horrible, then we can feel good about our direction. Again I am amazingly disappointed in Volunteer fans who when we see an article which makes our team look progressive, become NEGATIVE NEDS. Folks for the last time FULMER IS NOT COMING BACK, THAT TWINKY SOFT CAKES AT USC better not. Dooley is our coach. Let's get behind his efforts or go watch some other SEC team and run down the Vols and their coaches on that other team's site. If at the end of this year, we really were gross underachievers, I will then begin to be concerned. Until then, please do not pretend to be a Vol fan while posting like a troll.

msinva writes:

in response to orangeman1:

I can think of several players that Fulmer played as a freshmen. Do you have any specifice examples? Just wondering since you think it was one of his biggest problems. I remember alot of people saying Arian Foster wasnt as good as Hardesty and he shouldve been benched, then he went on the be one of the best RB in the NFL. I just think when a team is doing underachieving, the fans always think the backups are better. I think Dooley knows he has a couple of years before people start expecting championships again and that is even more incentive to play younger guys. I also think he is doing what it takes to turn UT into a competetive football team again. I guess time will tell.

Jamal Lewis for one didn't see significant playing time until the GA game after FL. I seem to remember Robert Meachem being limited early his freshman year behind IMO less talented players. I'm sure many freshmen played, but I should have been more specific and said "in skill positions and also not in mop-up roles." I still wonder what goes through Jonathan Crompton's mind about if he had been given a chance to play as a true freshman in 2005 instead of Rick Clausen when Eric Ainge was struggling. IMO, letting Rick play was political to try and get Jimmy Clausen down the road. Hindsight, as always, is 20/20.

For what it's worth, I respect your reply, but performance in the NFL is irrelevant. Foster was better at UT usually because Hardesty was injured.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to orangeman1:

I can think of several players that Fulmer played as a freshmen. Do you have any specifice examples? Just wondering since you think it was one of his biggest problems. I remember alot of people saying Arian Foster wasnt as good as Hardesty and he shouldve been benched, then he went on the be one of the best RB in the NFL. I just think when a team is doing underachieving, the fans always think the backups are better. I think Dooley knows he has a couple of years before people start expecting championships again and that is even more incentive to play younger guys. I also think he is doing what it takes to turn UT into a competetive football team again. I guess time will tell.

Jamal Lewis is usually cited as the prime example, not coming in until after the Florida loss. I seem to remember Travis Henry and Travis Stephens had attempts before Jamal did. Also remember Foster was the third string back in 2005, getting on the field only after Gerald Riggs and then Hardesty went down. Then there was the conundrum of Eric Ainge that CPF insisted be the starter in 2005 even though all the signs were there he wasn't up to it.

There is always more reasons than we know why certain players play and others don't. Some legimate reasons, some not so legit. We never know the whole story.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to msinva:

Jamal Lewis for one didn't see significant playing time until the GA game after FL. I seem to remember Robert Meachem being limited early his freshman year behind IMO less talented players. I'm sure many freshmen played, but I should have been more specific and said "in skill positions and also not in mop-up roles." I still wonder what goes through Jonathan Crompton's mind about if he had been given a chance to play as a true freshman in 2005 instead of Rick Clausen when Eric Ainge was struggling. IMO, letting Rick play was political to try and get Jimmy Clausen down the road. Hindsight, as always, is 20/20.

For what it's worth, I respect your reply, but performance in the NFL is irrelevant. Foster was better at UT usually because Hardesty was injured.

Randy Sanders wanted Clausen to start having outplayed Eric in fall camp. Fulmer pulled rank and said Ainge. Ainge was a head case and Sanders sensed it. Wasn't a ploy for Jimmy. The disagreement though destroyed the team.

drgreear writes:

I wonder when cantstandsaban is going to comment on this and say "how bad tennessee is because they have to play freshmen and their upperclassmen don't want the starting job" lol well vanderbilt definitely knows what it's like to win

Pompey writes:

in response to InDestruCtible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

.....DestruC this ...jerk!

TheFuj writes:

in response to orangeman1:

I can think of several players that Fulmer played as a freshmen. Do you have any specifice examples? Just wondering since you think it was one of his biggest problems. I remember alot of people saying Arian Foster wasnt as good as Hardesty and he shouldve been benched, then he went on the be one of the best RB in the NFL. I just think when a team is doing underachieving, the fans always think the backups are better. I think Dooley knows he has a couple of years before people start expecting championships again and that is even more incentive to play younger guys. I also think he is doing what it takes to turn UT into a competetive football team again. I guess time will tell.

First one that comes to mind was when Fulmer played Mark Levine (I think that was his name) over Jamal Lewis. I think Lewis played after we got beat by FL, and went on to a great season. Fulmer said Lewis was struggling with blocking assignments??

keviningeorgia writes:

in response to orangeman1:

I can think of several players that Fulmer played as a freshmen. Do you have any specifice examples? Just wondering since you think it was one of his biggest problems. I remember alot of people saying Arian Foster wasnt as good as Hardesty and he shouldve been benched, then he went on the be one of the best RB in the NFL. I just think when a team is doing underachieving, the fans always think the backups are better. I think Dooley knows he has a couple of years before people start expecting championships again and that is even more incentive to play younger guys. I also think he is doing what it takes to turn UT into a competetive football team again. I guess time will tell.

You know the old saying: "when your not winning, the most popular guy in town is the back up QB."

That's what most fans do. Not necessarily wise. But hey, that's why the word is short for fanatics.

rabidvol1998 writes:

in response to keviningeorgia:

You know the old saying: "when your not winning, the most popular guy in town is the back up QB."

That's what most fans do. Not necessarily wise. But hey, that's why the word is short for fanatics.

I can't wait for a coach to have more success than Fulmer. It will be fun. Then we can say that coach is doing it the right way and Fulmer had it wrong. Otherwise why do we have to keep making comparisons. Enjoy what we have and what we are developing and be proud of our tradition.

keviningeorgia writes:

in response to rabidvol1998:

I can't wait for a coach to have more success than Fulmer. It will be fun. Then we can say that coach is doing it the right way and Fulmer had it wrong. Otherwise why do we have to keep making comparisons. Enjoy what we have and what we are developing and be proud of our tradition.

I'll happily take what Fulmer and co was bringing in terms of wins in the mid to late 90's. Tennessee had it going on!

I'm proud of our overall tradition. I defended Fulmer proudly until about 2005. He actually started slipping in '02, I think. But, I reasoned at the time, it was just a temporary thing and they would recover. But, when they finally pulled the trigger on Coach Fulmer, we really did need a change.

I even embraced Kiffin but told my friends that his mouth wasn't the Tennessee way as I remembered it. At the end of the day, I really do hope Coach Dooley is what he appears to me to be. Even if he is, you will still hear grumbling and mumbling from folks every time his team loses a game. It's just the nature of a fan base...

txvolsfan writes:

in response to InDestruCtible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Guess we should just not play the season since you already know what our record will be. Well football season is over!!! That was quick!!!
It seems to me that a certain coach in the SEC was 5-6 in his first year and went 10-2 in second year with a team everyone said would go 6-6 and some call him the best coach in football now!!! So maybe we should play out the season first and not worry about 2012 until then.
What you say would that not be the best way to handle it?
You IDIOT!!!

RashaadSalabeb writes:

in response to VOLliven2it:

You know some pathetic people on here are sad.We have no idea how many games the Vols win in Dooley's third season. We do not know this year. If we see progress in the face of what he began with, which was horrible, then we can feel good about our direction. Again I am amazingly disappointed in Volunteer fans who when we see an article which makes our team look progressive, become NEGATIVE NEDS. Folks for the last time FULMER IS NOT COMING BACK, THAT TWINKY SOFT CAKES AT USC better not. Dooley is our coach. Let's get behind his efforts or go watch some other SEC team and run down the Vols and their coaches on that other team's site. If at the end of this year, we really were gross underachievers, I will then begin to be concerned. Until then, please do not pretend to be a Vol fan while posting like a troll.

I'm with you! We're showing steady progress and what more can you ask for. We'll be better than last year and next year we'll be better than this year. That's the way it works. The Vols are on the way back. Good for us Vol Fans tough titty for those who are not. Go Big Orange!

Vols Rock!

orangeman1 writes:

in response to msinva:

Jamal Lewis for one didn't see significant playing time until the GA game after FL. I seem to remember Robert Meachem being limited early his freshman year behind IMO less talented players. I'm sure many freshmen played, but I should have been more specific and said "in skill positions and also not in mop-up roles." I still wonder what goes through Jonathan Crompton's mind about if he had been given a chance to play as a true freshman in 2005 instead of Rick Clausen when Eric Ainge was struggling. IMO, letting Rick play was political to try and get Jimmy Clausen down the road. Hindsight, as always, is 20/20.

For what it's worth, I respect your reply, but performance in the NFL is irrelevant. Foster was better at UT usually because Hardesty was injured.

It takes time for freshman to get used to a new system in a new league. Lewis had to learn blocking assingments, but did play alot his freshman year. Ainge was definately the best qb on the team, but when a qb is struggling only the coach knows what will motivate him to get better. Ainge also played as a freshman with Schaeffer. I was never really high on Crompton even his last year at UT so I dont think it would've mattered if he was given more of a chance. Rick Clausen was probably a ploy to get Jimmy, but I will give him some credit though. he pulled off one of the biggest upsets and provided one of the best storylines ever by coming in at LSU and leading a big comeback to beat LSU that finished #5 in the country that year. The storyline was that Rick playing at LSU and was told that he wouldnt make it in the SEC by the coach. He transferred to UT and went on to pull off the comeback upset at LSU. He also was MVP of the cotton bowl in 04. Either way, it has to be tough to know when to pull the trigger and start a more talent true freshman over a more experienced veteran.

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