Tennessee Vols: Is Criticism of Butch Jones Justified?


Just one season into Tennessee Vols head coach Butch Jones time in Knoxville gave Big Orange Country reasons to be optimistic about the future. Instead of not being in the conversation for the nation’s top high school recruits, these highly touted players suddenly gave serious consideration to wearing orange and white for their college careers. And after Tennessee knocked off then No. 11 South Carolina on a game-winning field goal in Knoxville, it was easy to see why the future looked so bright.

Despite the evidence of early progress, both fans and the national media understood the rebuild would take time. However, both pegged the 2016 season as the year where the culmination of Tennessee’s recruiting efforts, wins and experience would bring the Vols their first SEC East title since 2007.

As we all witnessed, the Vols fell short of that goal in 2016.

After Jauan Jennings’ incredible hail mary reception to beat Georgia, fate itself seemed to root for Tennessee. Fate again intervened on Tennessee’s behalf against Texas A&M when Aggies running back Trayveon Williams broke through the middle of the Tennessee defense and charged through for what looked like an inevitable 70-yard game-winning touchdown.

Vols cornerback Malik Foreman had other ideas.

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Vols’ offensive line will carry this year’s burden

2012’s arrival did not just bring about the change of a new year, it also seemed to initiate a year of change for the Tennessee Vols.  Several assistant coaches, not to mention former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, accepted offers elsewhere and left the Vols with many questions to answer in the upcoming season.  Change, as it always does, creates both excitement and anxiety in the fans.

The 2012 season holds that same excitement and anxiety for Big Orange Country.  Great attention will be paid to new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and his defense, and the attention is well-deserved.  Tennessee’s defense found it difficult to play at a high level for four quarters a year ago, which many attributed to Tennessee’s youth and inexperience.

Among one of the other changes to Tennessee’s coaching staff was the addition of Sam Pittman, the Vols’ new offensive line coach.  Pittman, who coached the North Carolina Tarheels offensive line in 2011, faces the challenge of taking a group, who struggled against the NFL-talented defensive squads of Alabama and LSU, and turn them into a reliable group that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can rely on to generate a running game.

A change in defensive coordinator and offensive line coach might make any fan believe that the former will play a larger role in a team’s performance.  While Tennessee’s defensive play will help determine how many wins the Vols can get, the offensive line play will lay the foundation for success on both sides of the ball.

In fact, it is because of Sunseri’s arrival that Tennessee’s offensive line must play better.  Regardless of the amount of time the defense takes in transitioning into Sunseri’s system, the presence of a running game means one thing: more time of possession for Tennessee.  That means that the offense takes the pressure off of the defense and it keeps junior quarterback Tyler Bray and his arsenal of receivers on the field.

If the transition into Sunseri’s system takes more time, then Tennessee’s offensive line can help give those guys a break.  If the transition does not take that long, then an improved defense and offensive line means Tennessee makes a stronger argument to win the SEC East.

Without improved play from the offensive line, however, the defensive-transition issue becomes irrelevant.  Should Tennessee’s offense become plagued with three-and-out’s against Florida, Alabama or Georgia, the defense stays on the field longer.  The longer this goes on in one season, the more tired a defense can become overall.  Tennessee wants their defense to make plays and contribute to their success, but at this stage they do not want to ask the defense to do too much.

Paying attention to Tennessee’s defense makes sense as the new defensive coordinator poses a huge question mark for this team in 2012.  Make no mistake about it though, Tennessee’s offensive line will control the team’s destiny this season.

Bryce Brown drafted in round seven by Eagles

When Lane Kiffin became the head coach for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2009, Big Orange Country held high hopes for their team.  They had just fired long-time head coach Phillip Fulmer and the team’s stability became an area of question.  Kiffin brought in one of Tennessee best recruiting classes at that time, including one of the top prospects coming out of high school, running back Bryce Brown.

Brown, now drafted to the Philadelphia Eagles with the 229th overall pick, went from being considered one of the elite prospects from his days in high school to sneaking in the end of the draft as his limited playing time is a huge question mark on his stock. 

When Kiffin left the program, Brown decided to part ways with the Volunteers as well.  He transfered to Kansas State where he did not get that much playing time.  Brown left Kansas State and decided to enter the NFL Draft.

Now Brown finds himself behind LeSean McCoy, one of the league’s primier running backs.

Giants add another Hokie

Just two days after drafting Virginia Tech running back David Wilson with the 32nd overall pick, the Giants added another Hokie in cornerback Jayron Hosley. 

Hosley, like Wilson, found a way to sneak into a round of the draft.  He was the 31st pick of round 3 and the 94th pick overall. 

Last season Hosley contributed by forcing two fumbles and intercepting three passes for his defense.  The Giants won the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots back in February, but the Patriots passing game still found success in that championship game as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 276 yards and two touchdown passes.  New York hopes that the addition of Hosley will help shore up the passing game.

David Wilson sneaks into first round

Many speculated about whether Alabama running back Trent Richardson would be the only running back selected in the first round.  That speculation came to a screeching halt when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded up to the 31 overall pick and selected Boise State running back Doug Martin.  Then a pick later, the Giants chose Virginia Tech running back David Wilson. 

Wilson comes to a team looking to replace Brandon Jacobs, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers, the team that the Giants beat in the NFC Championship.  New York still has Ahmad Bradshaw on the roster, but Wilson should expect to get some of the carries to let Bradshaw rest.

Wilson had a solid year at Virginia Tech a year ago, getting 290 carriers and rushing for 1,709 yards and nine touchdowns.  Even though Wilson only stands in at 5’9 and weighs 206 pounds, in comparison to Jacobs’ 260, the Giants will still look to find ways to incorporate Wilson into the offense.

Malik Jackson finds new home

With pick number 137, former Tennessee Volunteer defensive lineman Malik Jackson was selected by the Denver Broncos. This makes another Tennessee Vol addition to the Bronco locker room as Denver signed quarterback Peyton Manning during the offseason. 

Jackson, who is 6’4 and weighs 284 pounds, will be expected to help contribute as a 3-4 defensive end.  The Broncos defense still was not at the level that head coach John Fox wanted, despite the team drafting Von Miller with the second-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Jackson comes in to help a run defense that was ranked 22 in the league and allowed an average of 126.3 yards per game.

Jackson was one of the bright spots in the Tennessee Volunteers 2011 season.  Jackson brought in a total of 56 tackles and three sacks during his last season with the Vols.

Hokies Cancel Spring Football Game

Not often do sports fans read the headline about their favorite college football team cancelling their spring football game.  A storm passing through Blacksburg resulted in Tech’s decision to call off the game. 

Even though the spring game’s cancellation disappointed fans, the Hokies’ recruiting class should still excite them for the upcoming season.

Virginia Tech made it a priority to target defense this year as they signed five linebackers this year, three of which are four-star recruits according to rivals.com.  On the other side of the ball, Tech boosted their running backs by signing three. These additions come at a time when Tech has three starters returning on offense.

Fans who had hoped to see the 2012 squad will have to wait until Sept. 3 as the Hokies host the Georiga Tech Yellow Jackets.