Back from Vacation, Vols Start Preseason Camp

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

In exactly one month and one day Tennessee will open up the 2009 season here in Knoxville against Western Kentucky. And if you weren’t ready for the season already, you’d better start getting ready, as the Vols open up the preseason camp today.

After spending the last part of last week down in Gulf Shores, Alabama, I’m ready for September 5th to get here. It’s going to be my last season of UT football as a UT student, and I’m ready to get last season out of my mind completely (and to figure out how the new student ticket system is/is not going to work). The last time I walked out of Neyland Stadium? The Wyoming game. You see my point…

But while I was down on vacation, three things stoked my anticipation not only from September through November (and hopefully as close to January as possible), but for this coming four weeks of practices. Those three things and my preseason practice thoughts after the jump.

First, the SEC previews that ran all last week. Obviously doing the necessary homework on those only focuses your mind more on the upcoming season, and getting the chance to go back through those as I posted them and the discussion that ensued furthered that as well.

Secondly, the Vols’ big week recruiting the wide receivers of the future. In recruiting, supposedly what generally happens is you get a quarterback and he attracts the offensive skill position players. Well, the Vols are bucking that trend and trying to make it work the opposite way. As you probably know by now, Markeith Ambles and Matt Milton committed last week.

Ambles at one point had an offer from USC and chose Tennessee over Florida, Alabama and others. Milton is a big WR (6-foot-6), and his commitment was much less of a surprise than the one from Ambles. Both guys are Rivals four-star guys who are capable of attracting the QB we’re all chasing.

But that wasn’t it: Rivals’ top-rated receiver Kyle Prater was in town Saturday on an unofficial visit, and he had glowing things to say about his time in Knoxville. He didn’t commit, but scheduled an official visit for the UCLA game September 12th. The Vols will have to overcome USC here as well, as Prater is taking an official to Los Angeles the weekend before he comes to Knoxville. Hopefully he remembers how much we want him to bring back the “WR U” title to Knoxville.

Finally, and this will make perfect sense if you’ve vacationed to Gulf Shores before: while I was there, I saw SEC apparel of every kind – hats, visors, drink coozies, shirts, license plates, car flags, towels, tents, car bumper stickers, coolers, sandals and more. While the predominant schools represented were Alabama and Auburn, I also saw folks sporting gear from LSU, the Mississippi schools, Georgia, Florida, one here or there from Arkansas and South Carolina. I even had a couple of fellow Vols come and ask me about Lane and the upcoming season.

Call it the Gulf Shores factor. If you’ve never been, you probably think it’s irrelevant, but if you have spent some time down there, you know what I’m talking about. And obviously with it being August already, it reminds you that another Fall in the South is just around the corner.

The Vols start fall practice today...YES!!


Now to my quick thoughts about the upcoming camp, as Joel at Rocky Top Talk pointed out yesterday, everybody does lists about these types of things, which I have to say was my exact plan. But I’ll hold off from those and share some thoughts I have and what I’ll be keeping and eye and ear on the next few weeks…

Obviously, everybody is going to be all over the quarterback competition between Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens, who was injured for spring camp. Everybody seems to think it’s Crompton’s job to lose at this point, but I wouldn’t count out Stephens. We tend to forget that Lane Kiffin and Jim Chaney never actually did name a starter in spring. With how bad the quarterback position was last year in the Dave Clawson offense, we will all be seeing how these two guys and new face Nick Lamaison, who might redshirt since he just got on campus a short while ago, do in practice and intrasquad scrimmages.

Lane and Co. are ready to work

Another storyline is the incoming group of freshman and how they will impact the position battles that are always headlining fall camps around the nation. Obviously Bryce Brown is the most likely candidate to make the quickest impact, but others could as well:

  • Wide receivers: With the recent run of injuries at the spot, Nu’keese Richardson and fellow wideouts Zach Rogers and Marsalis Teague may get an increased number of reps in practice and may need to step up to help Tennessee’s passing game. Hopefully James Green makes it past the NCAA Clearinghouse, but of the three question marks, Green’s the least likely to make it in from what I’ve read.
  • Secondary: The possible contributors here include Janzen Jackson, Darren Myles, Nyshier Oliver, Eric Gordon and Mike Edwards (if he gets everything cleared academically with the NCAA Clearinghouse). Note that I listed them in the likelihood I think they may contribute.
  • Linebackers: Outside of Rico McCoy at one of the outside linebacker spots, the other two linebacker positions are still a little up in the air, meaning one of the new guys may come in and stake a claim to a starting spot or significant playing time to add depth. These guys include Jerod Askew, Greg King, Robert Nelson and Nigel Mitchell-Thornton. Nick Reviez and LaMarcus Thompson were the other starters coming out of spring, but will they hold those spots?
  • Defensive line: Tackle Montori Hughes will likely be the third guy in the DT rotation, and may be forced to start if Wes Brown‘s knees continue to hamper him. Rae Sykes and Marlon Walls, both prep school transfers, also look to add depth. Walls is the third guy who’s seen questions surrounding his academics and getting past the Clearinghouse.

As Lane Kiffin said in his introductory press conference, every spot minus the safety spot occupied by Eric Berry was now open for competition, which will be a staple this August. Pete Carroll built the USC dynasty based heavily on competition (and recruiting the nation’s best players) at anything and everything, something that I’m sure Lane and Coach O have brought with them to Knoxville from their days building that juggernaut.

Finally, we absolutely must stay healthy. Our luck has already taken a bad twist with the season-injuries to Toney Williams (knee) and Austin Rogers (knee), the broken foot of Denarius Moore and the slowed recoveries of Gerald Jones (wrist) and Wes Brown (both knees). The talent level of this group is still a little cloudy (did the previous coaching staff not recruit talent or just not coach them?), but the lack of depth is not debatable. In other words, there is hardly any depth on this team. So the best injury news this August will be no injury news…

About Home Sweet Home... … to me.


Images Courtesy of: Amy Smotherman Burgess / Knoxville News-SentinelSaul Young / Knoxville News Sentinel

About the Author: I'm from Memphis but I'm now entering my third year at the University of Tennessee here in Knoxville. I am majoring in Journalism/Electronic Media and hope to go into sports broadcasting/writing/something like that. I'm a huge Vol fan and have been going to games for as long as I can remember. I started my on blog called "The View From The Hill" but moved here to Gate 21 for bigger and better things. In addition to my passion for Tennessee football and basketball, I enjoy watching the NFL and the NBA as well. Basically, sports are a big part of my life. >> Read more from this author

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