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Opening Up Our Notebook On The Rocky Top

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One of the many changes Rick Neuheisel made for this year's pre season camp is to have the field crew at Spaulding blast out loud music at practice. From what I hear he is having the crew blast out loud music during warm ups and (mix of rock and roll, hip hop and the Tennessee fight song) for about 10 mins towards the end of practice. The goal was not to get his players prance around bunch of Trojans, but to get them to focus and concentrate through distractions.  Well the crew started playing Rocky Top Talk, the fight song of our first opponent about two weeks ago. Since RN has already been getting his players in a Rocky Top state of mind and his coaches have been playing Jedi mind tricks, by sneaking in Tennessee game plan during first two weeks of practice, it is about time to open up our notebook on the Tennessee Volunteers.

The Vols are coming off a pretty successful 10-4 season in 2007 which they ended with a 21-17 bowl victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. They are missing some key parts from last season. Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has gone off to become the head coach at Duke (coincidentally he beat out Karl Dorrell for that gig). They also lost their long time starting QB Eric Ainge (see it’s not just us who have to worry about breaking in a new QB) along with some key players on defense such as LBs Ryan Karl and Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Hefney at FS. They also lost couple of key Des in Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds. Yet, these losses are not going to make the Bruins opening day assignment any easier. As CPBruinFan notes Volunteers are going to come in with a new offense under Dave Clawson (formerly a coach at D 1-AA Richmond) that will feature some powerful weapons, especially in their running attack:

The Volunteers have been known for their strong running attack in years past and this year should see a return to that tradition. Arian Foster put together a 1,200 yard season last year and the Volunteers have another pair of talented backs behind him. Foster also has five returning starting lineman to run behind. The good news for the Bruins is that our run defense will be a real strength. The defensive line is solid and Price and Harwell will be a dangerous duo in the middle. It will likely be a grind it out battle in the trenches and the Bruin's depth will be sorely tested.

The rest of the Tennessee offense is a bit of a question mark. With a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and a whole new offensive philosophy, it is hard to know what this team will look like in the fall. If the Bruins can put up a sturdy defense against the run then they might find some success by forcing Jonathan Crompton to throw. The Junior is coming back from off-season surgery and he has only played limited minutes in his career. He does have a very talented receiving corp at his disposal and our young secondary will have a baptism by fire on Labor Day.

So what about their new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson? From what I am reading it sounds like he will incorporate some spread schemes into Tennessee’s usual pro-set attack we have been accustomed to over the years under QBs like Shuler, Manning, Clausen and Ainge. In fact our friends over at Rocky Top Talk (RTT) are calling it the "Clawfense":

Now that practice has started and the media is permitted to ask questions of players instead of tight-lipped coaches, hints of what the Clawfense will look like are beginning to emerge. As I guessed as an EDSBS Visiting Lecturer, it is apparently a spready-type, West Coast-ish (emphasis on the "-ish") thing. It's also apparently quite complex. Josh McNeil calls it "really complicated," Brandon Warren says "he's never seen anything like [it]," and Gerald Jones thinks it's "a whole lot harder than Cutcliffe's offense." How much of the complexity has to do with The Incredible Flipping O-Line, we don't yet know, but I suspect that that's only a small part of it.

That was Joel from RTT who although has some "mixed feelings" about the complexity of this offense, thinks that Vol fans should be excited about the possibilities:

Assuming the Clawfense is complex without being overwhelming, Vol fans have to be excited about the possibilities. The Incredible Flipping O-Line should create mismatches in the trenches as well as at the skill positions. That's new. The flexibility of being able to "run four different plays out of one formation" certainly sounds like a cure for predictability, the second-leading cause of death for offenses. That's new. And if the article that suggests that the Clawfense will feature some razzle-dazzle with players inserted into skill positions they don't typically play," then it will at the very least be exciting. What we've missed the most over the past handful of seasons are a couple of truly dynamic and consistent playmakers. It's looking like we not only have those now, but that we have the system to best use them to our advantage.

For more "longing peak" at this new offense head over here.

It will be interesting to see how Walker schemes against this offense. As we have discussed ad nauseam here on BN, he has had some issues dealing with spread offenses in the college ranks. He has done a great job game planning against team that runs traditional pro-set offenses such as Notre Dame and Southern California. So he is going to get tested right off the bat. Hopefully our defensive line will be able to hold strong against their running attack, while getting support from a young and untested defensive backfield. Cubs like Moore, Hester, Dye will get thrown to the fire right away. I am actually kind of excited about it.

Now over on the other side of the field here is a little snippet on the Tennessee defense from

THE SCHEME: Over the years, Tennessee has been well-served by its 4-3 scheme. The Volunteers are determined to apply pressure and aren't hesitant to blitz. They figure to do that even more in '08. With exceptional talent and depth in the secondary, the Vols likely will go into their six-defensive back "Mustang Package" frequently and blitz from a lot of angles.

STAR POWER: Even though he was only a freshman last season, strong safety Eric Berry was hyped as an emerging star. He lived up to the hype, with five interceptions, nine pass breakups and 86 tackles to earn freshman All-America acclaim. With a season of experience, he should be better in '08.

Eric Berry is so athletic that apparently Tennessee coaches are trying him out at QB. He teams up with Demetrice Morley to form one of the most feared safety tandems in the country. With us breaking in a brand new, inexperience QB against that combo, oy. Here is the overview from

That talented secondary should provide the Vols opportunity to be creative with their blitzes and coverages. Throwing on Tennessee won't be easy. That's the good news. The bad news is that Tennessee struggled against the run in '07, ranking just 70th in the country in rush defense. Both starting ends and two starting linebackers, including All-SEC performer Jerod Mayo, are gone. There are solid players such as Ayers and end Ben Martin ready to step up, but depth is thin up front. If the Vols avoid injuries, they could develop into a solid unit as the season progresses. If depth becomes an issue in the front seven, they could be in trouble.

In other words we can expect Chow to attempt to feed those Volunteers with a heavy dose of Bell, Carter, Dean all night long with opportunistic passing from QBs.

Tennessee despite their missing components will be heavy favorites to win this game given their experience at OL and their bevy of options on offense. It should be interesting how our Bruins come out in this first game. No question we are going to be all fired up and Neuheisel will have our guys ready to go through the wall. But the question is how long our Bruins will be able to sustain this emotion, and withstand a Volunteer team which is coming off a double digit winning season with a season ending win over Wisconsin. I can’t wait to find out.

To all the Tennessee fans who are visiting this week, welcome to Bruin Nation. Feel free to stick around and have fun chatting football. However, as always while doing so please be respectful of our community and our school. You can bet we will return the favor. We will have lot more on the Volunteers rest of this week.