John Adams: Big things ahead for the Vols in 2012

John Adams
AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS
Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera leaps over Georgia strong safety Shawn Williams as he carries the ball against the Bulldogs after making a catch during last season's 20-12 loss in Knoxville.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, ©KNS/2011

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera leaps over Georgia strong safety Shawn Williams as he carries the ball against the Bulldogs after making a catch during last season's 20-12 loss in Knoxville.

Suppose you hadn't read a sentence or heard a word about this Tennessee football team. Suppose your only contact had come through watching the players file onto the practice field.

That alone would be enough to make Tennessee fans optimistic.

You know what all has gone wrong in the first two seasons under coach Derek Dooley. You can simply open your eyes and see what has gone right. After just two full years of recruiting, Dooley has assembled a bigger, stronger football team.

Not that size alone assures you of success. But it at least means the biggest, strongest teams on the schedule won't shove you around with regularity.

The sheer size of the team is an appropriate starting point for formulating preseason projections as to how the Vols might finish. The Vols are bigger almost everywhere.

The offensive line, which will average 6-foot-5, 317 pounds, will be even bigger than the 2009 bunch, arguably the biggest in school history.

Size might be more noticeable on defense, where Dooley's front seven averaged 249 pounds in 2010. Two years later, it will average well over 271 pounds when junior college transfer Daniel McCullers (6-6, 362) lines up alongside Darrington Sentimore and Maurice Couch .

The Vols also are bigger at wide receiver, having added All-American junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson (6-3, 205), whose presence will make the loss of suspended All-SEC wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers more bearable.

A receiving corps that also features tight end Mychal Rivera is only one of the reasons UT should have the best passing game in the SEC. The Vols ranked third in the conference in passing yardage per game last season despite losing quarterback Tyler Bray for half the season to a hand injury and losing Hunter for nine games to a knee injury.

Bray's throwing ability was obvious as a freshman. Now, he's more polished, experienced and sturdier. He could put up Peyton Manning-like numbers behind a veteran offensive line that, for all of its struggles in the running game last season, tied for second in the conference in fewest sacks allowed.

The running game remains a question mark after ranking 116th out of 120 FCS teams in rushing yards per game in 2011. But with UT's passing attack, the Vols won't have to run with the authority of Alabama or LSU. A 4-yard-per carry average would be a reasonable goal for a team that should throw first and run second.

The defense can't come close to matching the offense in playmakers. It does boast experience and depth.

Dooley hired Sal Sunseri as his defensive coordinator with the intent of promoting a more aggressive mind-set. As the Vols adjust to Sunseri's 3-4 scheme, UT fans can only hope they make more big plays than they give up.

No other team in the conference returns more starters than Tennessee. The schedule is more favorable than the last two. And you can't get through a player interview without hearing how this team is more united, committed and better led.

So what could go wrong?

Answer: Plenty.

Although the kicking and running games should be improved, they still have to prove themselves under game conditions. Bray has created just enough unfavorable off-the-field news to make you wonder if he can keep it between the lines for an entire season or go the way of Rogers. Also, you're talking about a program that has averaged almost six losses per season for the last seven years and almost seven losses per season the last four years. It's more accustomed to failure than success, which helps explain why the Vols repeatedly wilted in the face of adversity last season.

Something else to consider: What if the Vols pass the adversity test? Could they handle success as well?

If the Vols win September games against N.C. State and Florida, they will secure firm footing in the top 25. That could be heady stuff for a program that hasn't been ranked since the 2008 season opener.

Those are all reasonable concerns, but they shouldn't obscure the obvious pluses. The Vols are deeper, more experienced and talented than they have been in awhile. They also have no shortage of motivation after back-to-back losing seasons.

That might not add up to a championship. But it should return Tennessee to the top 25 and maybe the Outback Bowl as well.

Prediction: 9-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC.

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 » 56

sameolvolalum writes:

Thanks for the positive slant, JA. Let's all expect great things this season. GBO!

volsfanstuckinbama writes:

I'm on board with that prediction!!!! This is our year finally we will be relevant again!!!! Break out the orange kool-aid IT'S FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!!!!!!

fearthehound writes:

Dang! I didn't expect such optimism from Adams. If he thinks 9-3, then there must be some possibility of that, since he has never exactly been a Vol homer. Gives me a little more hope after the whole Ra'Dick thing.

Cartersvillevol writes:

Nice article. I think the constant complaints of Adams "negativity" are a little overblown.

AtopTheHill06 writes:

I think mdvol said it best. "Vols hang a hundred in the first two games, and drop forty on the gators."

Is it weird that I keep getting out my tickets for Fri just to look at them?

metalhead223 writes:

Omg!!! JA actually optimistic? Wow I just got a boner! I'm over this preseason phooey!!! Suit up and hit some damn heads!!! College football is in the wings!!! It's gonna get big and ugly.

justafan4ut writes:

in response to fearthehound:

Dang! I didn't expect such optimism from Adams. If he thinks 9-3, then there must be some possibility of that, since he has never exactly been a Vol homer. Gives me a little more hope after the whole Ra'Dick thing.

Sometimes there is an addition from substraction. This is one of his more positive articles that I've seen in awhile, a long while. If JA can keep things in perspective, there may be hope for him yet, but I doubt it. How about those boys from G-ville, TN. What a crazy game. That was about the wildest baseball game I've ever seen at any level. Probably won't do very well tomorrow, cause of pitching, but hey, I'm proud of them win or lose. Them boys show alot of guts and detemination. Most, if not all would have wilted losing a 10 run lead. Go Big Orange and to those little leaguers from G-ville. Sorry not sure how to spell it.

HallowedHill writes:

What have you done with the real, John Adams?! Not that I'm concerned, just curious.

GO VOLS!

BillsBrother writes:

in response to Cartersvillevol:

Nice article. I think the constant complaints of Adams "negativity" are a little overblown.

Amen, to that.

CroKev writes:

McKeefery has done his job getting them stronger and 'thicker' for the pounding of a season. Really, really curious to see how things go in the trenches on both sides of the ball this season, while everybody else will be watching the skill positions...

mattnchatt writes:

Hell hath frozen over. John Adams predicts Vols not only to improve, but do well.
GO BIG ORANGE!

VolinCalif writes:

Now. Now. John always says it the way he sees it. Many times that isn't what we want to hear. But would you really have it any other way? I know that many times he comes across negative but pointing out faults isn't really being negative. If it were there would be very few coaches. I like the way both John and Griff tell things about a team. If John says 9-3 I have to go back with that 10-2 again. but this time SC maybe a toss-up. Sooooo
Vols 35 NCS 14

TruVol writes:

I restarted my computer to see if this article would still have John Adams name as the author when it booted back up. It did! Wow!

tovolny writes:

John, this is GOOD "GO VOLS" writing. After reading you and Mike Strange this week, I am somehow sitting up straighter in my seat, have my binoculars ready, and I am wearing my best orange shirt. You guys keep this up and I will go buy a new hat...might even take a bath and shave.

hateNCloveTN writes:

i still have to pee

CrankE writes:

in response to Cartersvillevol:

Nice article. I think the constant complaints of Adams "negativity" are a little overblown.

If anything, those claims of negativity are "underblown".

Adams writes a "positive" piece about once every other month to string just enough KNS readers along so as to please his bosses. Do not be fooled.

gatorhator4eva writes:

5 days away until we see what everyone has been talking about. my take on it is we need to crush nc state to set the tone and make a statement.

cloudodust writes:

There was a time at FSU when it seemed all Daddy Bowden asked of a PK was to hit the PAT. To nail a 3 from 30 plus was a bonus. No, I ain't comparing Seminoles to Vols but in the SEC, the toughest, meanest conference in the nation, we gotta get points at every opportunity and simply put, Tennessee must flip the field consistently via the punt. So goes the kicking game. Here's hoping for improvement. It's game week. GBO...and congrats to the Goodlettsville Little Leaguer's.

GainesvilleVol1 writes:

Thanks for a positive article Mr. Adams. I would be happy with 9 wins, especially if it has us beating UF. I can tell you from living here, they don't consider us a threat and since we haven't won in so long, who blames them? It's time to get back to being relative as a program starting with beating NCS.

GO VOLS!!!

OrangePride writes:

Seems to me JA is cautiously mounting the Big Orange Band Wagon. But have no fear, his loyalty here will depend on winning the first three games.....which I and everyone else really hopes will be the case. A W over Florida would help take away a lot of the pain from last season. SO GO VOLS!!!

BigOrangeFever76 (Inactive) writes:

in response to AtopTheHill06:

I think mdvol said it best. "Vols hang a hundred in the first two games, and drop forty on the gators."

Is it weird that I keep getting out my tickets for Fri just to look at them?

Nope...that is not weird. I must have looked at mine 6-7 times since I got them. Just want to make sure they are OK and have not been damaged. Plus I like to double-check the opponent, game date, my seat assignment, etc.

Gotta run...have to go look at them now to make sure they are OK and that I did not overlook something. : )

Its GREAT to be a Tennessee Volunteer!!!

BigOrangeFever76 (Inactive) writes:

Fulmer was so bad about calling off the dogs once the Vols got a lead in games....he would then play to not lose instead of stepping on their throats.

Dooley cannot have that mindset this year, especially. We have to keep the foot on the gas for a full 60 minutes. Certainly, we don't want to run up the score on lesser opponents like Ga. State, Troy, Akron, etc. But we need to bulldoze others. Hang at least 50 on NC State to get the season started with a bang! WooooooooHooooooooo

Bigger_Al writes:

2009 OL biggest in school history? Don't think so. Two Sullins's and Aaron Douglas, a converted TE.

TheVolSnake writes:

I read and then went back and re-read the article and still couldn’t believe JA was on the Vol’s bandwagon with a positive article. I think even he understands the issues over the last two years and knows we are dramatically improved across the board.

Are we there yet No. we still have a long ways to go but if everything is as forecasted the Vols could have turned the corner and back on their way up.

The biggest surprise this year is going to be the running game. I still say we will have 200 yards on the ground against NC State. I would almost bet the first series of plays for the Vol’s offense will be heavy on the run. Expect first play to be a draw for a big gain. The main reason I predict this is NC States strength on Defense is their secondary (4th in the Nation) but have a completely new LB Corp with no experience, which would lead to a weaker run and short passes Defense. Also our O. Line is highly motivated to prove they can run block.

Our Defense is going to be a very formidable force this year and will produce a lot more sacks and turn over’s than last year.

GerryOP writes:

in response to andforhisnexttune:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And then there are people like you who can never find anything positive in anything. Glass half-full or half-empty? You look around and ask, "What glass?"

AtLannaVol writes:

in response to mattnchatt:

Hell hath frozen over. John Adams predicts Vols not only to improve, but do well.
GO BIG ORANGE!

Once again I start reading these comments hoping for some good feedback from the fan base. And Once again, the majority of the comments are about JA. You guys keep complaining about his articles not being positive enough. Have you watched any of the last three seasons? The outcomes were not positive.
The only problem JA has is that he's been around UT Football long enough to know what it should look like. When UT wins this season, he'll write about it. It will be positive. And you will still be obsessed with grading JA.

And oh btw, I agree with the 9-3. I think we can go anywhere between 8-4 to 10-2. I just hope we beat the dawg-sh-- out of Georgia.

Go Vols

GerryOP writes:

Dang guys! If Adams predicts 9-3, I'm not too far off on my prediction!

12-0 baby ... 12-0!

murrayvol writes:

in response to GerryOP:

Dang guys! If Adams predicts 9-3, I'm not too far off on my prediction!

12-0 baby ... 12-0!

Gerry, John may not be drinking the Kool Aid but he's close enough to smell it.

Wish I could second that 12-0 but I need a bit of reassurance. That could come Friday evening.

LCPanthers (Inactive) writes:

I CANT BELIEVE ADAMS IS GIVING THIS MUCH HIPE TO THE VOLS----MUST MEAN THEY(VOLS)ARE GOING TO BE PRETTY GOOD.I WOULD HAVE PREDICTED 8-4--BUT 9-3 OR 10-2 ,MUCH MUCH BETTER.I DONT THINK THERE IS A DEFENSE IN SEC--THAT CAN STOP VOLS COMPLETELY.I
PREDICT THAT RUNNING GAME AND KICKING ARE ABOVE AVERAGE---HOPE THERE IS A BETTER BOWL THAN OUTBACK------GO VOLS!!!!!

frblalack writes:

Best article from J Adams in years! Only hope he underestimated us, 9-3 and 5-3 in the SEC is attainable sure. My prediction (hope) is similar but more like 11-1 or 12-0.

All Vols! And if we fall short of an SEC title or title game or National Championship, I will still support Coach Dooley, his staff, and our team! Regardless of our record, the quality of play will be evident from day one! UT 2012...can you say BOWL BOUND!

Vol for Life - Bleeding Orange - Less than one week away from "Football Time in Tennessee"

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to GerryOP:

And then there are people like you who can never find anything positive in anything. Glass half-full or half-empty? You look around and ask, "What glass?"

The glass isn't half-full or half-empty. It's completely full. It's just that half of it is full of air.

BigOrangeRock writes:

I am betting on 8 reg. season wins. 9 should be the minumum, but we are not going to get there. :(

Navaloranges writes:

I'm sorry John, what was that?

Navaloranges writes:

in response to andforhisnexttune:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

As I regularly try to tell you, and your other screen names, YOU will be A) disappointed, and B) Gone soon.

You have less than a week to spread your Bogus Stuff, aka, BS.

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

Wow, John Adams' prediction is more optimistic than mine. I had predicted 8-4. I need to take the same "positive thinking" class he took.

tnoutlaw2001#228008 writes:

A good running team usually beats a good passing team, especially if its a close game.

Chaney better have dug his head out of the sand this past year or expect more of the same until a change is made.

rbwtn writes:

Hey John; Thank You for writing something positive about the Vols as we get ready for what could be a really Surprising season. I sneaked a Peek in Johnson City and was Quite impressed at the size and the "go get-em" attitude of the Team this year. I say we've got something whether or not we win the first game. Look OUT!

GerryOP writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

The glass isn't half-full or half-empty. It's completely full. It's just that half of it is full of air.

That's good 10se, should go down as a GVX classic!

arkyvol writes:

after vandy and kentucky (neither one a lock), where do the other three conference wins come from? ole miss isn't on the schedule once, much less three times.

GerryOP writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Gerry, John may not be drinking the Kool Aid but he's close enough to smell it.

Wish I could second that 12-0 but I need a bit of reassurance. That could come Friday evening.

No problem brother. Just hang onto your bandwagon seat ... it could be a wild ride this year. I suggest that by this time this week, not a discouraging word will be heard and the bandwagon will be filling up.

Are you guys planning a gathering of the geezers Friday evening in ATL?

GerryOP writes:

in response to arkyvol:

after vandy and kentucky (neither one a lock), where do the other three conference wins come from? ole miss isn't on the schedule once, much less three times.

The other 3 wins? Alabama, Florida, and Georgia ... gonna' win 'em all.

Colliervol writes:

I learned a valuable lesson after the disaster in 2005 and that was never to make a prediction again. So much depends on injuries and breaks. One thing is for certain. Improvement (and I think that means 8 wins) MUST be shown or we probably will see a new coach. Not saying that's fair but just being realistic. Tee it up and let's find out.

UTbassdrummer writes:

in response to AtopTheHill06:

I think mdvol said it best. "Vols hang a hundred in the first two games, and drop forty on the gators."

Is it weird that I keep getting out my tickets for Fri just to look at them?

Not even 1% weird. It's the days before Christmas and kids everywhere are shaking those presents.

This is really exciting.

fearthehound writes:

in response to arkyvol:

after vandy and kentucky (neither one a lock), where do the other three conference wins come from? ole miss isn't on the schedule once, much less three times.

Well Arky, what John is obviously saying here is we will probably lose to Alabama, SC, and Georgia and win the rest. Maybe you could get your third grade kid to do the math for you between your fiddling and corn likker sessions.

Actually, I'm thinking 9 wins are a little optimistic.I would be ok wth 7-5 and pretty tickled with 8-4.

arkyvol writes:

in response to fearthehound:

Well Arky, what John is obviously saying here is we will probably lose to Alabama, SC, and Georgia and win the rest. Maybe you could get your third grade kid to do the math for you between your fiddling and corn likker sessions.

Actually, I'm thinking 9 wins are a little optimistic.I would be ok wth 7-5 and pretty tickled with 8-4.

by my math that means the vols have to win florida, miss. state (in starkville), and missouri. fat chance of running that table.

PUL4VOLS writes:

It is good to see John "believing" the Vols are better. Before the past two seasons I have emailed him about the Vols and what we agreed was about where we were ended up being at seasons' ends. If he sees potential, he names it. I still think he relishes too much the negativity but do not put him in the complete nega-Vol category. So as we wait these final 4 days we have reasons to be excited and while I would love a Volunteer smacking of the WPackers, I will take a win. In order for that to occur, there must be a total team effort. That is highly possible. GO VOLS!

VolFanInMO writes:

in response to HallowedHill:

What have you done with the real, John Adams?! Not that I'm concerned, just curious.

GO VOLS!

Check for pods.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to fearthehound:

Well Arky, what John is obviously saying here is we will probably lose to Alabama, SC, and Georgia and win the rest. Maybe you could get your third grade kid to do the math for you between your fiddling and corn likker sessions.

Actually, I'm thinking 9 wins are a little optimistic.I would be ok wth 7-5 and pretty tickled with 8-4.

I hardly ever agree with the arkytroll, but a little fiddling and corn likker never hurt anybody! Or rarely...or at least some survive...though they do say that anybody who can really play the fiddle has sold his soul to the devil. So, yeah, he should just get back to whatever he was doing before, because he sure doesn't seem to like Vol football or know much about it.

dirty_don writes:

My usual prediction 14-0 national champs

murrayvol writes:

in response to GerryOP:

No problem brother. Just hang onto your bandwagon seat ... it could be a wild ride this year. I suggest that by this time this week, not a discouraging word will be heard and the bandwagon will be filling up.

Are you guys planning a gathering of the geezers Friday evening in ATL?

We are indeed. 3 geezers and a driver. Should be a riproaring day. We'll hoist one (or three) for you.

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