The preseason is the time for fans to feel great about their team. The untested prospects? They’ll all pan out. The injury-prone veterans? They’ll stay healthy. The returning stars? They’ll be even better. It’s not hard to be optimistic in June or July.
That said, even the most positive fan on the best day thinks back in the school’s past at some point, and remembers some legendary alum who would really help the team. If only they were in school now, and still had eligibility, and yet were magically physically transformed back to their college days. This is where SEC Time Machine comes in.
To help gets fans from the blazing summer into football time in the fall, we’re awarding each team’s head coach an extra scholarship — and a time machine. Go back in time, nab the player who will help your school in 2016, bring them back, and suit them up. But you get only one pick, so the key question is who would be the best guy to bring back.
Tennessee Volunteers, you’re on the clock. How far back do you need to set it?
The favorite son? Not so fast!
Because it’s Tennessee, the first draft choice of most Vols fans would probably be perhaps the most beloved UT alum ever, the great Peyton Manning. With 11,201 passing yards, 89 touchdowns, and a never-ending list of highlights and accolades to his credit, putting a young Manning in the Volunteer backfield and turning him loose to throw darts around the SEC is tempting. But it’s not where Butch Jones is going.
To be sure, Manning was a legendary SEC quarterback. And current UT QB starter Josh Dobbs has been somewhat uneven in his career at UT. But Dobbs is a near-perfect fit for Jones’s dual-threat offense, while Manning, even in his college days, wasn’t winning many races.
There is a temptation to assume that putting Peyton under center will cure all ills. But Tennessee fans would be wise to remember that as great as Manning was, it was Tee Martin who led the Vols to the national title. Martin was a good but not great passer, who was resourceful enough with his legs to keep the Vols grinding out close wins.
If Tennessee can get the same kind of production from Dobbs, and they may well do so, there’s no reason to use the pick on UT’s favorite son. It seems like the easy call, but Butch will ultimately leave Peyton back in the ’90s.
The Minister of Defense? Tempting, but no
More than ever, the SEC is emerging as a league of great passers. But most of that emergence has been in the SEC West, and in the East, virtually the entire league will be relying on unseasoned quarterbacks to control their fates in 2016. Accordingly, the team that wins the East might be the team that puts the most heat on those untested quarterbacks.
When it comes to making quarterbacks uncomfortable, few have ever compared with Reggie White, another Volunteer legend.
In an era when SEC teams rarely passed, White still amassed 32 sacks at Tennessee and racked up 293 tackles in his four seasons as a defensive lineman. White went on to retire from the NFL as that league’s career sack leader as well. So Butch should just head back to the mid ’80s and grab the Minister of Defense, right? Well, maybe not.
There is no doubt that White would help the 2016 Volunteers defense. But Tennessee already has Derek Barnett, who had 10 sacks again in 2015 and maintains an excellent chance to break White’s Tennessee sack record, at one defensive end spot. Admittedly, putting Barnett on one end and White on the other would blow the minds of opposing offensive coordinators. But the Vols were fairly solid on defense — even in their four losses they gave up just 19, 24, 28, and 31 points (the last in overtime).
Bob Shoop would make his case to bring White to 2016, but at the end of the day, Jones probably overrules him.
Not the Most Obvious Pick, but the winner is …
Ladies and gentlemen, after a two decade break, back in Volunteer orange and ready to tear up opposing defenses, Joey Kent.
Kent lacks the glamor of Manning or White, but that shouldn’t trivialize what he accomplished. Not only does he lead UT in career catches (183), receiving yards (2,814) and receiving touchdowns (25), he is the only Vol to have two 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
In 2016, Tennessee is set in the backfield, and while the offensive line is still gelling, there is no reason to think it won’t do so. The biggest question is who will catch the crucial passes.
Josh Malone has the talent, but hasn’t shown the consistent production to assert himself as Dobbs’ main option. Enter Kent. All he does is get open and catch the ball.
With Kent as a main option, Malone, Josh Smith, and tight end Ethan Wolf would all benefit from lighter coverage. UT was 92nd in passing yardage per game in 2015, but with a little help from the SEC Time Machine, Butch Jones just solved the biggest weakness on the 2016 squad, and once he makes his round of the call-in shows and defends the choice to a few hundred irate fans of Peyton Manning and Reggie White, the Vols are good to go.
Source: Saturday Down South