Tennessee football was filled with an exciting and dazzling group of freshmen in 2010. Quarterback Tyler Bray, wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, and offensive linemen Ju'Wuan James, James Stone and Zach Fulton all were important contributors for UT's offense.
Entering spring practice the Vols only have a number of seniors that played significant time in 2010. Coach Derek Dooley understands that the development of the rising sophomores could make or break the 2011 season.
"You look at some of the key questions coming out of the spring but the biggest thing is can our freshmen, who energized our team a little bit, become dependable, every-down contributors in the SEC," said Dooley.
"I think that's a big jump from being excited about a player as a freshman and then turning them into every-down starters who can help you compete for a championship."
The sophomore slump is a common phrase used for a talent freshman that doesn't meet expectations on the field in their sophomore season. With the statistics and highlights from this group, a sophomore slump could be probable.
"There are a lot of freshmen that go out there and flash, everybody gets excited about them and they never pan out to anything," said Dooley. "Then, there are a lot of freshmen that go out there and have a great freshman year and then they have a terrible sophomore year because they think they are going to be pretty good. History is working against us a little bit. It's our job to make sure that neither of those scenarios happens."
This group is especially important to Dooley's second UT team as freshmen and sophomores make up the majority of the roster due to the attrition of Fulmer and Kiffin's classes.
"The facts are, we're going to need some of them," said Dooley, "I've made that comment -- we're going to open up next year with more than 70 percent of our roster freshmen and sophomores. To think we're going to sit there and amp it up on cruise control, we're fooling ourselves.
"We're going to have the youngest team probably in America next year. We need to start right now in making sure that our sophomores of next year don't play like sophomores. We need them to play like juniors and seniors."
Bray to be challenged
UT road their young and talented freshmen quarterback the last half of the season. Bray played in nine games, with five starts, and finished with over 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns. In Bray's five starts UT won four, the only loss being the controversially bowl game vs. North Carolina.
This off-season Bray lost his top three targets: Denarius Moore, Gerald Jones and Luke Stocker. This spring Bray needs to take advantage of working with his new talented wide outs: Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and other newcomers. And it won't shop up immediately.
"It's an inch-by-inch process," said Dooley. "We're not going to throw so much on him that he can't go out there and think. Generally, that's never fazed him. If he doesn't understand something, he doesn't care. He's just going to do something else. A lot of guys get really frustrated because they want to master what we know.
"But with Tyler, if he doesn't get it, he doesn't really care. It's kind of like, `Maybe I'll get that tomorrow, but today I'm just going to throw it to that guy and it's going to be a touchdown.' We'll be the ones throwing our hats because he throws it to the wrong guy and it's a touchdown."
Fans hope to see plenty of Bray to Hunter and Rogers in the checkerboard next fall. But the first step to making that possible is to continue to work throughout the spring.