Oct. 15, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
Saturday marks the official halfway point in Lane Kiffin's first season as Tennessee's head coach.
So what have we learned so far? Well, for starters, we've all seen what sticking with one quarterback can do. And we've seen that Tennessee's coaching staff knows how to put together a gameplan on both sides of the ball. And we've seen that these Vols still aren't great at shutting down opposing returners.
What better time to take a look back at the first half of the season than before this weekend's open date?
Best Moment: Last week's throttling of SEC East rival Georgia had plenty of highlights, but the best moment of the season probably came during a meeting at the team hotel Friday night. Give Kiffin and his staff credit for really connecting with the players at a crucial moment. After a heart-to-heart between coaches and players, the Vols played inspired football in a game that has the ability to turn Tennessee's season around.
Best Comeback: Regardless of your opinion of quarterback Jonathan Crompton, you have to admire the senior's resilience. He's taken too much abuse from fans during his career, but he took a major step toward vindication last week against Georgia with a career high 310 yards and four touchdowns. It's an incomplete comeback at this point, but Crompton has shown what so many people - Crompton included - knew he was capable of.
Déjà vu All Over Again: Pretty much any kick return is cause for concern at this point. Opposing returners have had a field day, with 18 returns of more than 20 yards. Two kickoffs have gone all the way back for touchdowns. It's not pretty, and it's something Vols have to fix in a hurry.
Unsung Hero: It's hard to argue with Wes Brown. The senior moved from defensive end to defensive tackle this fall, and he's playing through tremendous pain in his knees. But he's still found a way to be productive, and that's saying something.
Overachiever: Many people figured Janzen Jackson would play a lot of snaps this season, but few thought he'd be playing every snap on defense. He's started the last five games, and he's well on his way to freshman All-SEC and freshman All-American honors. More importantly, he gives the Vols a strong foundation for the future in the defensive backfield.
Underachiever: This would have been an easier pick in past seasons. By and large, Tennessee's coaching staff has done a good job defining roles for its players and then getting them to produce. The most obvious choice here is receiver Brandon Warren, who was dismissed from the team prior to the Vols' 45-19 win over Georgia.
Achiever: Say what you will about a lack for interceptions for Eric Berry this season, he's still the best defender in the SEC and the best defensive back in the country. Berry has embraced a hybrid role that has him playing the run more often than in years past. Already he's posted 50 tackles, and he proved last week he's just as dangerous as ever when has the ball in the open field. Everyone expected Berry to play like a star this season, and that's exactly what he's done.
Offensive MVP: No one except Montario Hardesty is even close. The senior tailback is proving he belongs as a starter in the SEC - and deserves a roster spot in the NFL - with every carry this fall. He's healthy, and he's one of the toughest runners in the country. No question he's the best player the Vols have on offense.
Defensive MVP: Everyone expected defensive end Chris Walker to have a breakout season, and he's been right on target so far, even while being slowed a bit by a back injury. Walker leads the Vols in interceptions with two, and he ranks second in the SEC in sacks. Berry means a ton to this defense, but after the first half of the season, Walker belongs right there with him.