John Adams: Experience not a problem at three key positions

John Adams
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray (8) and coach Darin Hinshaw during the first half Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 in the Music City Bowl in Nashville at LP Field.

Photo by Michael Patrick

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray (8) and coach Darin Hinshaw during the first half Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 in the Music City Bowl in Nashville at LP Field.

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The shortcomings of this Tennessee football team are well documented. They have been predicted and previewed since the last season ended.

But as the Vols open training camp this week, it's worth noting that, in the second year of coach Derek Dooley's program, they are no longer at ground zero. And for all their publicized flaws, they also have strengths, especially when you compare them to their SEC East competition.

For example, the Vols are experienced in three areas where experience is especially beneficial — at quarterback and in the offensive line and secondary.

That experience is a good place to start in building toward the season opener.

Quarterback: Tyler Bray flashed his potential in the last six games of his freshman season, so it's easy to forget about the guy he replaced. Don't.

Matt Simms gives the Vols something no other team in the division has — a backup quarterback with starting experience. Those experiences include the game-winning touchdown pass in double overtime against UAB, clutch fourth-quarter play in a 16-14 loss to LSU on the road, and 19-of-31 passing for 259 yards against Florida.

When Simms got the large majority of the snaps through the first seven games, he completed 100 of 176 passes for 1,253 yards. Those are more impressive stats than either Vanderbilt starter Larry Smith or Kentucky starter Morgan Newton has compiled. They also are similar to the numbers put up by Florida quarterback John Brantley in his first seven starts last season — 129 completions in 208 attempts for 1,206 yards.

Offensive line: UT's youth in the offensive line was a major disadvantage last season. Now, the Vols have a combination of youth and experience.

In fact, they have the most experienced offensive line in the division.

Redshirt junior tackle Dallas Thomas qualifies as the veteran in an offensive line that includes four sophomores with starting experience. Also, backup center Darin Gooch started six games last season, and Dooley has further bolstered his depth with a recruiting class that includes Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard and high school All-American Marcus Jackson.

Secondary: The return of safety Janzen Jackson, who missed the spring to deal with personal issues, makes this the strongest, most experienced sector of the defense.

Jackson, who made the SEC's preseason second team, is one of six defensive backs who have started at least six games.

Prentiss Waggner, who made second-team All-SEC last season, is experienced at both safety and cornerback. And he's listed as a backup on the preseason depth chart.

Cornerback Art Evans, who has 18 career starts, also is listed as a reserve. Another backup, cornerback Eric Gordon, has started six games.

Despite all that experience, the Vols have only two seniors as starters or backups — Evans and cornerback Anthony Anderson, who has one career start. They also will add several heralded recruits to the secondary, including junior college transfer Byron Moore.

So, as experienced as they are in the offensive line and secondary, they will be even more experienced next fall. And by then, their shortcomings won't be as evident.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 14

CrankE writes:

Still not buyin' the decent words towards UT. Fire John Adams.

tree_em_smokey writes:

in response to CrankE:

Still not buyin' the decent words towards UT. Fire John Adams.

That made me laugh!

On topic Im so excited about watching our offense this year! 34 days till FOOTBALL TIME IN TENESSEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

TheOpinion writes:

This man could scream "help" while being on fire with 5 shot wounds. And I'd still think he was being sarcastic.

VolinCalif writes:

Cheer up guys today is the day.

TNORANGEDOGDAD writes:

Can't wait for CSS to offer his EXPERT opinion on this article. He must already be in his little ship bed with his Black and Gold comforter and commodore doll.

johnlg00 writes:

It is a good thing not to forget about Simms. He ensures that the Vols have a serviceable back-up to Bray while several contenders don't even know for sure who their starter will be. The O-line should be one of the best such units in the league. Even I had no idea just how loaded the secondary will be. The Vols' young front seven may well struggle in the early going, but if they get through the first four games or so without major injury, the defense will not be a major problem for the rest of the year. All told, I am getting the feeling that this team will be a good deal better than many are thinking right now. Just wait and see.

CrankE writes:

in response to tree_em_smokey:

That made me laugh!

On topic Im so excited about watching our offense this year! 34 days till FOOTBALL TIME IN TENESSEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Glad to be of service. Don't know how I missed this, but Adams said the other day, "UT fans have been penalized enough."

Couldn't agree more. End our punishment. Fire John Adams.

oskie_score writes:

Solid OL, QB w/ 6 gms experience but against avg (at best) teams, "big", talented WR's, TB w/a "chip" on his shoulder...the offense should be exciting.
Defense, M Jackson, J Jackson, & Waggner provide leadership, "trial by fire" in key (DL & LB) positions...hope that the pieces quickly fall into place.

MikeTheTiger writes:

i say we'll go all the way! Go Vols. Thanks, and i'll listen off the air.

tovolny writes:

Thanks John. This is the kind of stuff UT fans want to read. We all have high hopes and usually fear the worse. Thanks for providing some facts. We are so tired of hearing all the doom and gloom. The UT administration, our coaches and our players are so tired of everyone pointing out all the flaws.

Several coaches have been fired along with the AD stepping down. We hear conflicting stories alluding to reasons for these actions placing doubts on the UT administrators, as well as the motives of KNS, ESPN, etc.

What we want to hear are just the facts about our beloved university. We do not need to be confronted with "hearsay" and creative, journalistic editorializing presented by sportswriters who expound on their opinions without researching the FACTS.

We, the fans, are many. We, the fans, are strong. We, the fans, are mostly decent people with Tennessee ties that go back deep into the previous century. We want what is best for UT and the UT students. Our devotions to our Volunteers are second only to family and religious convictions. When somebody steps on Smokey's tail he will turn once and just snarl and growl...if they step on it again, he will defend himself unleashing all his primal instincts. Treat Smokey right, and he will wag his tail and lick your hand.

Amem...Go Vols.

hamneggs writes:

in response to johnlg00:

It is a good thing not to forget about Simms. He ensures that the Vols have a serviceable back-up to Bray while several contenders don't even know for sure who their starter will be. The O-line should be one of the best such units in the league. Even I had no idea just how loaded the secondary will be. The Vols' young front seven may well struggle in the early going, but if they get through the first four games or so without major injury, the defense will not be a major problem for the rest of the year. All told, I am getting the feeling that this team will be a good deal better than many are thinking right now. Just wait and see.

I agree with you on Simms. He could be the difference in a team that will need leadership on the field. I don't believe Bray ;with all his natural ability; is ready.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to hamneggs:

I agree with you on Simms. He could be the difference in a team that will need leadership on the field. I don't believe Bray ;with all his natural ability; is ready.

I also agree about Simms..if you look at the film Simms spent most of the time rollimg out or running for his life;must have set a record for sacks and hurries;

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

I also agree about Simms..if you look at the film Simms spent most of the time rollimg out or running for his life;must have set a record for sacks and hurries;

In fairness to Simms, he faced the best defenses in the early part of the season when the Vols were still trying to figure out who their main O-linemen would be. I am one of many who thought Bray would have been killed if he had played those tougher teams that early in his career. Simms seldom reminded me of his dad, but I thought he did a remarkable job under the circumstances.

Even more important, he wasn't publicly heard to be miffed when Bray became the starter. IMHO, that says even more about his character as a teammate than it does about his ability on the field. I hope Bray has a banner year and gets through the whole season without injury, but if he falters or gets hurt, I feel better about the team knowing that Simms will be there to pick up the slack.

Rereading your post, I realized that you saw some of the same qualities I saw in Simms. I confess that at first I thought you were cutting on him when in fact you were only reporting the obvious.

gortrtt writes:

in response to CrankE:

Glad to be of service. Don't know how I missed this, but Adams said the other day, "UT fans have been penalized enough."

Couldn't agree more. End our punishment. Fire John Adams.

Nice. VERY nice! Got a good laugh out of your posts. Thanks.

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