A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the importance of Tennessee’s offensive line being the Vols’ key to success in 2012. The issue dwarfed any concerns that the defense might have, but wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers’ indefinite suspension, which ultimately led him to transfer to Tennessee Tech, only increases the burden that the offensive line carries into the first game of the season.
Prior to the loss of Rogers, Tennessee’s passing attack promised to be one of the country’s most elite. Now, Tennessee’s passing offense might have to settle for a downgrade to exceptional. Even though depth is no longer an issue at wide receiver thanks to head coach Derek Dooley’s most recent recruiting class, the offense does not want to ask their freshman wide receivers to do too much.
That’s why it wouldn’t surprise if offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s first-quarter gameplan would involve a lot of running plays to counter North Carolina State’s talented secondary. While JUCO-transfer Cordarrelle Patterson’s role in Chaney’s offense will increase due to Rogers’ departure, they want to take some pressure off Patterson and Justin Hunter, who is returning from a knee injury he suffered a year ago. A more balanced attack in the first half would surely open up the passing game late in the game.
Early success in the running game could help open up the passing game in the second quarter and the second half. Going to the running game early would most likely also go against how North Carolina State believes Tennessee will attack them. Sometimes offensive coordinators like keeping teams off-guard by doing the exact opposite of what is expected of their offensive gameplan.
Headlines leading up to Friday’s game will likely discuss Rogers’ absence and the impact it will have on the game. All eyes, however, need to be on UT’s offensive linemen. Providing more balance in Friday’s game could truly set the tone for the rest of Tennessee’s 2012 season.