KNOXVILLE – Tennessee was among the youngest teams in college football in 2011.
Consider some of these facts and figures.
The Vols played 16 true freshmen. They had 21 total freshmen (true and redshirt) see the field. They started six true freshmen against Arkansas. They were the only team in FBS with three freshmen – linebackers Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson and safety Brian Randolph – among their top five leading tacklers.
Luckily for coach Derek Dooley and the 2012 team, youth has been served and the Vols will have a more veteran squad in 2012.
“We’re certainly deeper than we’ve been,” Dooley said at SEC media days last week. “It’s so important to be deep and talented because you can’t allow an injury or two that happens to every team decimates your season.”
That increased depth, however, doesn’t prevent some newcomers from being relied on as the team begins camp next Friday. Perhaps there won’t be as many new starters, but several recruits will be counted on to provide that extra depth Dooley referenced.
Here are five newcomers to keep an eye on:
1. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson
The hype has been substantial since Patterson enrolled at UT this summer. He’s 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and quarterback Tyler Bray said he can jump like Justin Hunter and be physical like Da’Rick Rogers.
That’s high praise for a player that hasn’t played a down of SEC football. The junior out of Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College could be a deadly third option behind Hunter and Rogers and could also contribute as a kick returner.
2. Cornerback Deion Bonner
The Vols have some experience at cornerback, but few of the players on the current roster have stood out as reliable SEC players.
Senior Prentiss Waggner will probably start on one side. The other spot is really up for grabs, and Bonner could have a shot. He will compete with sophomore Justin Coleman, senior Marsalis Teague and junior Eric Gordon.
Even if he loses that battle, he will be in the mix to play in the nickel dime packages and on special teams.
3. Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers
He pushed 6-foot-6 and 400 pounds when he played at Georgia Military College, but sources say McCullers is down to around 355 pounds and looks to be in decent shape heading into fall camp. He has the potential to be a big part of the Vols’ transition to their new multiple-front defense.
He can be used as a run-stopping specialist and a player who can occupy multiple gaps when they use a three-man front.
4. Kicker/punter George Bullock
It’s no secret the Vols’ kicking game was less than stellar in 2011. Matt Darr was last in the SEC among punters with at least 40 attempts with a 38.1-yard average. Michael Palardy (64.3 percent) was second-to-last in the SEC in field-goal percentage among kickers with at least 10 attempts.
Bullock will have a chance to compete at both spots and could get a look as a kickoff specialist as well. After spring practice Dooley said the kicking game would be open for competition in the fall.
5. Defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore
Sentimore enrolled early and got a chance to show some of what he could do in spring practice. The reviews on his performance were mixed. He did get some time with the first team but ultimately ended up working mostly with the reserves by the end of the spring.
He’s an intriguing prospect because he’s big enough at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds to play inside, but he’s athletic enough to play defensive end. He will be in the hunt for a starting role, but, at the very least, he should be part of the defensive line rotation.