In 2011, the Tennessee Volunteers stumbled their way to a second straight seven loss seasons. After a 5-7 campaign without so much as a trip to a low level bowl game, Head Coach Derek Dooley is just 11-14 through two seasons, and firmly seated on the hot seat. Another similar season and he’ll probably be out the door. The good news for Dooley and Vols fans is that the 2012’s installment of the team has plenty of junior and senior talent, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Here is a look at some of the draft eligible prospects on Tennessee’s roster this season. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Tyler Bray* QB 6’5 210 – Bray is a tall, skinny, beanpole with a gunslinger’s mentality. He’s not afraid to trust his strong arm and try to squeeze a pass between three defenders of flip a ball underhanded to avoid a sack. Bray has a loose looking delivery that fits his style of play. But he often looks clumsy or awkward with his movements. Bray does a good job sensing pressure, and can step up or away from it and deliver strong pass. But when he’s blitzed he lacks the mobility to get away from the heat. Bray can whip the ball, but doesn’t always have the best spiral or ball placement. He is, however, able to throw from different angles and create new throwing lanes. He also does a great job adjusting the touch on his short and intermediate throws. Bray became the starter for Tennessee about half way through his freshman season, and last year he missed five games with a broken thumb. He’s yet to start more than nine games and he ended last season with a couple of ugly performances. Bray’s a work in progress and needs to reign in some of that risk taking, but he has the arm and some of the instincts to be a starter at the NFL level. It will be interesting to see how the mental part of his game develops this season.
Justin Hunter* WR 6’4 200 – Hunter lasted only one catch into the third game of his sophomore season before tearing the ACL in his left knee. Prior to that he was off to a blazing hot start, with 16 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns. As a freshman, Hunter caught 16 passes in 13 games; and averaged 25.9 yards per catch and scored seven TDs. He’s a tall, lean athlete who runs well after the catch and uses his body to shield defenders. Hunter can snag the ball and shows good footwork along the sidelines, but he allows the ball get into his body more often than he should. Hunter has a limited body of work, but he looks the part. All eyes will be on that left knee to see if he can return to that early 2011 form. If so, Hunter could work his way into the mix for top receiver in the draft.
Da’Rick Rogers* WR 6’3 208 – As talented as Hunter is, it was Rogers who was the nation’s second rated receiver coming out of high school in 2010. Before he played a snap at UT, Rogers ran afoul of the law and was arrested for his role in a bar fight. He eventually served some community service and played in every game – albeit on a limited basis – of his freshman season. As a sophomore, and with Hunter on the shelf, Rogers led the SEC with 67 receptions. He finished the season with 1040 yards and nine touchdowns. After the season, Rogers sat out a spring practice after an unspecified off the field issue. Days later, the problem was resolved and he seemed ready to move on. If he can keep his head on straight, Rogers can team with Hunter and Bray to form a potent passing attack.
Dallas Thomas G 6’5 300 – Thomas has a taller, more athletic build than a typical guard, and in fact was the Volunteers’ starter at left tackle the past two seasons. He’s moving inside this year, but he’ll stay on the left side of the line. Thomas moves well for a big man and gets down the field on run plays, but he’s not a road grader. This makes his move to guard even more curious. Thomas is able to hold his own against edge pass rushers. He doesn’t allow himself to get shoved into the backfield, and he can slide laterally to shield on a speed rush. But as solid as Thomas is at left tackle, the Vols like the potential of massive sophomore Antonio Richardson; and they feel the combination of the two will make up one of the best, left sides of an O-line in the SEC.
Prentiss Waggner CB 6’2 188 – Waggner burst onto the scene as a sophomore free safety in 2010 when he intercepted five passes and returned three for touchdowns. As a junior last season, Waggner split duties between free safety and cornerback and intercepted two more passes, broke up seven others, and recorded three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. He’s the most experienced member of the Volunteers’ secondary, but he’ll be playing his first full season at cornerback and will likely be counted on to match up with the opposition’s best receivers. Besides the ball-hawking abilities he’s shown as a safety, Waggner’s speed is estimated in the 4.5 range, and he’s a solid run defender. If he proves that he can handle man coverage this season he’ll rise up draft boards quickly.
Also keep an eye on: Herman Lathers OLB 6’0 225, Daniel McCullers* DT 6’6 377, Zac Fulton G 6’5 324, James Stone* C 6’3 300, Ja’Wuan James* G 6’6 323, Maurice Couch* DT 6’2 299, Mychal Rivera TE 6’3 251, Eric Gordon* CB 5’9 190, Marsalis Teague CB 5’11 182