Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 4/19/12

2011 did not go the way the Volunteers wanted or expected it go. The Vols faithful knew it would be a trying year but they still expected to head to bowl game in December and have hope for the future. However, that did not happen as Justin Hunter and then Tyler Bray went down early, hamstringing the Volunteer offense.  Games against LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas didn’t make things any easier.

This year Derek Dooley is sitting firmly on the hot seat and Vols fans are thirsty for some sort of success. The spring game will be there chance to get a good look at a lot of the pieces that will be going into their 2012 campaign, including the big debut of their new defensive coordinator, Sal Sunseri. The game is set for Saturday at 3pm and you can watch all the action on ESPN3.

Here are five things to watch for in Tennessee’s spring game.

1. How does Sal Sunseri’s defense look?

 

Tennessee was average, at best, on the season in their defensive production. However, when you look at the game by game breakdown you can truly see the flaws in their system.  Against six ranked opponents the Vols gave up a whopping 400 yards on average. That’s not a good look for any team, especially one in the SEC. Sunseri’s job is going to be getting this unit playing as one and that starts with finding some starters at all three levels of defense. Prentiss Wagner is likely the best player on defense, he’s going through a move to cornerback from safety so the Volunteers need more playmakers to emerge.

2. Is Tyler Bray living up to the hype?

Bray is healthy from his injury and has a lot to prove in many facets of the game. He’ll have to prove that he ready to take that next step from a gun slinging, ball forcing quarterback into the nation’s elite ranks and that means making smart decisions. He also has to prove he’s ready to lead, leaving some of the self-described dumb stuff at the door and being the cog that makes this team go. He is a heck of a quarterback, with an arm that most in the nation can’t touch, to achieve serious success he has to use his talents for good, not to put his learning defense in a bind.

3. What does Da’Rick Rogers do?

Rogers has had his share of off the field issues, including his latest “will he stay or will he go” saga. However, it seems the kid is starting to get it as he has been seen blocking enthusiastically at practice and shifting into his off receiver role now that Justin Hunter is back for the Volunteers. Rogers is a heck of a talent and we’ll get to see how he takes advantage of his new-old spot as the secondary target in the Volunteer offense. I’m looking for him to make a few plays Saturday against this Vols defense.

4. What are coaches going to let Justin Hunter do?

Hunter scored a touchdown in the most recent Tennessee scrimmage, but he was wearing a red non-contact jersey. This Saturday we’ll see if the coaches let the big time receiver go all out as he recovers from a knee injury. If he can go for a bit Saturday it will be a treat for Vols fans.

5. Speaking of Vols fans, will they show up en masse?

The SEC has been the king of spring game attendance as Bama sets the pace and LSU, Florida, Georgia, Auburn and the like follow behind. With things not going so well at Tennessee we’ll get to see, on ESPN3, just how into this team the Volunteer faithful are. Dooley is on the hot seat, the defense is a work in progress and the Vols don’t have much of a running game to speak of; will fans file into Neyland Stadium for a team most don’t expect to win more than seven games?

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