Tennessee Volunteers: The Time To Take The Next Step

Randy Sartin/ USA Today Sports

HOOVER, Ala.–  Every year that Tennessee Volunteers coach Butch Jones has been in Knoxville, the optimism level seems to be climbing higher and higher. His debut 2013 season saw them finish with a 5-7 record and 2014 saw them win the Gator Bowl over Iowa to finish 7-6.

Many believe this is the year, for Tennessee to finally get back to the top of the SEC East. In fact, some have even picked the Vols to win the division.

The math is simple— Tennessee is returning 18 starters from last year’s team and added another very strong recruiting class over the offseason. Coming back from last season are quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Jalen Hurd, wide receiver(s) Marquez North/Pig Howard, linebacker Curt Maggitt, defensive back Cam Sutton, and many other players.

The Vols haven’t won the SEC East since 2007 and before last season hadn’t been to a bowl game since 2010.

Sure, they also had their swing of bad luck with their two previous head coaches. Lane Kiffin left town after just one season and Derek Dooley went 16-21 in his three seasons on Rocky Top.

Butch Jones has from day one been a positive force for the program and has spoken about the hopes of getting the program back to the Tennessee of yesteryear.

This week in Hoover, the players are also speaking about the hopes of reaching great heights in 2015. Cornerback Cam Sutton says it is popular to be upbeat about this season after their bowl win.

“The only way you can explain it is that we want more,” Sutton said. “That’s our mentality. We had a great offseason. During spring ball, guys were put in different situations they haven’t been in before, but were able to prosper and make plays.”

Joshua Dobbs is being looked to as another leader on this team, after he took over the starting quarterback position in 2014. He finished strong with 1,206 yards passing and nine touchdowns. Plus, he also ran for 469 yards with eight touchdowns.

He’s shown that he can lead on the field and has been showing that he can off the field.

“Since I got on campus I’ve always treated myself as the starting quarterback,” Dobbs said. “But it’s always different when you’re named the starting quarterback, just how your teammates view you. It’s been a great opportunity to push my teammates more, continue to motivate them and get them ready for the season.

Like Sutton and Dobbs, outside linebacker Curt Maggitt is also looked at as a team leader for the Vols. This past season, he combined with defensive end Derek Barnett to rack up 21 sacks.

Maggitt has definitely benefitted from playing alongside Barnett and realizes he’s huge for the defensive success.

“A lot of great pass rushers usually has someone on the other side who can help them out or they can feed off of,” Maggitt said. “Me and Barnett see eye to eye. We learn from each other. He helps me out and I help him out. I’m excited for this season. I love playing with him.”

Like any successful coach, Butch Jones is looking for much more than just reaching a bowl game in his second season with the program. Even with all the players returning, he still knows they are growing as a program.

In fact according to him, Vols fans can expect to see more youngsters on the field in 2015.

“We still have a number of unproven areas within our football team,” Jones said. “We’re going to have to rely on a lot of true freshmen to play important key roles in this season. So, I think a lot of that success will be determined by how quickly they can develop into their roles.”

Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle could be one of those players relied upon this season. He enrolled early at Tennessee and got to take part in spring practice.

Tennessee will be a remarkably improved team this season, just with the added confidence the returning players have from last season. The defense will be stout with their seven starters coming back.

We now must find out whether or not the offensive line can protect the very mobile Dobbs. They gave up 43 sacks last season.

I still think the Vols are a year away, but the win totals could reach 10 in 2015 with a mostly favorable schedule of Oklahoma (season opener), Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina coming to Neyland Stadium/

Tennessee Vols Prediction: 2nd in the SEC East.

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