HOOVER, Ala. – Tennessee coach Butch Jones was his usual self during his appearance at SEC Media Days on Monday. He didn’t say much, other than to defend his program.
Jones reminded the hundreds of assembled reporters that the Vols had won three consecutive bowl games for the first time in 20 years. He also was quick to point out that the Vols are one of just three SEC programs that has won nine games in each of the past two seasons.
It was the same mantra, so feel free to sigh. That’s what most of the media did.
But Jones did offer up some bits of reason for optimism. He said the collective leadership of his team is the best it has been during his tenure in Knoxville. After seeing players quit at various times, most notably running back Jalen Hurd last season, that’s reason to think this season could be a pleasant surprise.
There are others.
Coaches and players never say they had a terrible offseason of strength and conditioning. It’s always great. But in this case, I tend to believe the Vols.
UT has a more stable strength and conditioning program in place since it actually decided to hire a full-time coach to head it up. Offensive lineman Jashon Robertson said he cut his body-fat percentage in half – from 33 percent to 15 percent. He certainly looked the part during interviews. These Vols should be in better shape, which should mean fewer injuries and improved play late in games.
The Vols also have one of the better offensive lines in the SEC. No, they’re not ready to be clad in crimson, but the Vols are far better up front than they’ve been for quite some time. Entering what looks to be a rebuilding year with a solid offensive line is quite a luxury.
The Vols also should be explosive in the secondary. They’re deep in the defensive backfield, which gives them options. UT’s secondary has to be better than last season’s version.
Those two positions are the most likely areas for the Vols to lean on. But a case could be made for others. Darrin Kirkland Jr. will anchor the linebacker corps. John Kelly and Ty Chandler might be a better fit than Hurd in Jones’ offense.
Let the debate wage on concerning just how hot Jones’ seat really is. But a nine-win season seems well within reach. Anything more will require some good fortune.
Just don’t base your season predictions on comments from Jones. They’re easy to predict – boring.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
© 2016, gridironnow.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.