THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. The offensive system will be the same.
Believe it or not, Tennessee is going into a season with the same offensive coordinator as the previous season for the first time since 2007. Back then, David Cutcliffe was entering his second year of his second tour of duty in Knoxville. After the season he left for the head coaching job at Duke, and Phillip Fulmer made the fateful decision to replace him with Dave Clawson. A year later Lane Kiffin brought Jim Chaney in to run the offense, and now Derek Dooley has kept him on. It was a savvy decision given all of the coaching turnover in the past few years, and it probably was a good one given the way he made lemonade with Johnathan Crompton last season. Dooley will bring his own influence in the way that Kiffin did last year (bootlegs!), but overall it will be Chaney's system.
2. Whoever ends up the quarterback will have some good targets.
One of the few spots on the roster with multiple good and experienced players is receiver. Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore are seniors who will lead the way on offense after having been the two top receivers in 2009 and two of the top three in 2008. There's not much in the way of proven players behind them, so those guys absolutely have to stay healthy. There is a great third option, though, in Luke Stocker at tight end. He's going to be one of the best tight ends in the SEC and one of the better ones in the country. He caught five touchdowns a year ago, and he could surpass that this year if secondaries really focus on Jones and Moore.
3. There is at least one good pass rusher.
Tennessee's Chris Walker was one of the top ten sack guys in the SEC last season, and he's returning to anchor the Vols' defensive line this season. To say that the lines at Tennessee are "depleted" might be kind depending on who you ask, but Walker is the one known quantity of the bunch. Of course that could result in his stats taking a hit from last year as opposing lines inevitably double-team him, but taking up the attention of two blockers at once may be the kind of thing that the rest of the line needs to be effective.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. Who will be behind center.
Jonathan Crompton graduated. Nick Stephens transferred. B.J. Coleman left before last season. The depth chart at quarterback emptied out at an alarming rate in Knoxville, leaving first year guys Matt Simms (a three-star JUCO transfer) and Tyler Bray (a thin, lanky four-star true freshman) to duke it out for the top spot. Simms took the lead in the spring, but we don't know how long he'll hold it. He likely has a limited ceiling given the way he's graded out in the eyes of scouts. Bray is the long term solution, depending on who UT signs in the future, though his tattoo doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Either way, Lane Kiffin chasing off one-time '09 commit Tajh Boyd (now at Clemson) looks even worse in hindsight.
2. How the guy behind center will stay protected.
Throw in how Tauren Poole will get his yards with this one. Tennessee started two former walk ons in the offensive line last season, and they along with the other three starters from '09 are gone. There was going to be one returning starter in Aaron Douglas, who played as a freshman last year, but he decided to leave as a part of the inevitable attrition that coaching changes bring. Now we get to see five guys, at least two of which couldn't beat out those former walk ons, attempt to man the line this season. It's a tenuous situation at best.
3. How Tennessee will deal with injuries.
It's a theme I've been harping on, but it's a serious concern. Tennessee will probably only have about 75 scholarship players this season, putting the Vols 10 men down against the NCAA;s upper limit and all the other power programs who are already there. Injuries suck but they happen to everyone, and having a stable of replacements ready to go is how best to deal with them. As cocknfire explored earlier today, just getting the top 22 fleshed out is a challenge. Getting the depth chart behind them sorted out completely is a nightmare. Because of the roster situation, Dooley is likely going to get a well-earned mulligan if 2010 doesn't turn out so well.