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OFFENSE: Tennessee has one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in senior Erik Ainge, who fought through injury last season to pass for nearly 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. While he is the unquestioned starter, sophomore backup Jonathan Crompton is a tremendous talent who will be hard to keep on the sidelines. Last season, receiver was a position of strength for the Vols. That does not appear to be the case heading into 2007, as the corps is rather young and inexperienced. That means tight end Chris Brown will be counted on heavily, at least early in the campaign. With three returning starters along the offensive line paving the way, the strength of the UT offense could be the ground attack. Sophomore LaMarcus Coker and junior Arian Foster are both more than capable of putting up strong numbers, and both were slated to see plenty of action until Coker was suspended indefinitely as he continues to work through some personal problems.
DEFENSE: Only five starters are back for on the Tennessee defense, and there are some concerns up front. The middle of the line will feature fresh faces, and it remains to be seen if they can live up to the standards of the outstanding tackles of 2006. The ends, Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds, are seniors who have the potential to be strong contributors. At the linebacker position, Jerod Mayo is fresh off a sophomore campaign in which he tallied 83 tackles, including five sacks. Perhaps the best player for the defense is Jonathan Hefney, a safety who returns 96 tackles from his junior campaign. While the defensive unit does not appear to be dominant from the start, there is talent in place to reach that stature.
SPECIAL TEAMS: As Britton Colquitt goes, so goes the special teams units of Tennessee. Colquitt handles both punts and placekicking duties for the Vols, and while he is known more for his booming punts, he does have the ability to be just as good on field goals. Hefney is a good punt returner, but it may not be the best idea to have your top defensive player taking shots on special teams.
OUTLOOK: Of course Tennessee will be a tough out regardless of the quality of the opposition. The Vols have been uncharacteristically beatable the last few years, and Phil Fulmer has heard his critics call for a change. There will be pressure, and in the SEC with such stiff competition, it seems unlikely that Tennessee will reach Atlanta for the conference championship game.