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SEC 2009 // The Tennessee Team

There's a two-letter word that, if used frequently, ought to make uneasy any fan poring over the post-spring depth chart: "Or."

But Tennessee coaches used "or" with almost reckless abandon in their after-spring three deep. Among the positions with at least one "or" being all that separates two front-runners: TE, C, RT, one WR spot, MLB, SLB, LCB and FS. Oh, yeah, and QB.

There are questions, of course, about how sincere some of those "or's" really are. After all, coaches have a variety of motives for tinkering with depth charts -- pushing a player, deceiving opponents, sending a message to recruits. For example, most knowledgeable observers expect Jonathan Crompton to be the starting quarterback now that B.J. Coleman is gone. But for those still intent on stoking a controversy under center:

Tennessee Returning QBs, 2008








Jonathan Crompton








Nick Stephens








To an extent, you can sympathize with the coaches. To use an old phrase, "Pick your poison" -- the guy with 10 fewer points on his passer rating, a completion percentage north of 50 percent and one more INT than TDs "or" the guy with the higher passer rating, a completion percentage of less than 50 percent but one fewer pick than scoring strikes.

Have fun.

Other uses of "or" are more puzzling: Why deploy it at center, where senior Josh McNeil has 35 starts? Is this a time-sharing agreement, as the university's athletics Web site suggests, or something else?

Some players are such obvious shoo-ins that there is no subterfuge or push factor necessary. Key starters returning to Tennessee include Gerald Jones, who will line up at WR and likely do any WildVol-ing that need be done, should Lane Kiffin go in that direction; LB Rico McCoy, the team's second-ranking tackler last year with 87; and this "Eric Berry" kid, who had 7 interceptions (256 return yards), broke up six more passes and had 72 tackles, 8.5 of those for loss, including three sacks.

But there are also gaps. RBs Arian Foster (131 rushes, 570 yards, TD) and Lennon Creer (73 rushes, 388 yards, 4 TDs) leave by graduation and transfer, respectively. Beyond Jones, the depth chart at WR is less than impressive, in part because last year's statistics were dragged down by the erratic quarterback play. The defense is pock-marked with spots with no incumbents after losing six 2008 starters, including defensive lineman Robert Ayers.

Solutions are present in some places. RB Montario Hardesty did lead the team in rushing TDs last year with six, though he rushed for just 271 yards (3.6 ypc). Other places are murkier.

For now, there are just too many "or's."


MONDAY: Tennessee Hopes Change Brings Changes; Lane Kiffin Was Risky, Not a Bad, Hire
TUESDAY: Tennessee's Timetable; The Tennessee Coaches Meet
LATER TODAY: The Great Lane Kiffin Debate
THURSDAY: Predictions
FRIDAY: Feedback and Conclusions