Tennessee's All-Decade Team: Backfield stars lead potent offense
Editor’s note: Saturday Down South has selected an all-decade offensive and defensive team for all 14 SEC programs.
The past decade has had a few moments of delight for the Tennessee Volunteers. But otherwise, this has been a 10-year span to forget for one of college football’s traditional powers.
The Vols have been mediocre, to say the least. They never won 10 games in a single season and had a losing record 6 times. The 2017 season was the true low point, as the Vols lost 8 games, the first time in their 120-plus years that they had that many losses in a season.
After beating Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale, the Vols’ record this decade is 62-58. But it hasn’t all been bad. In fact, some players accomplished great things during their time in Knoxville.
Let’s take a look at the best of the best on offense.
QB: Joshua Dobbs (2013-16)
When Dobbs took over as Tennessee’s starting quarterback during the second half of the 2014 season, everything changed for the Volunteers. He’d go on to start 31 consecutive games. He’s 2nd all-time in total yards for the Vols with 9,936. Most importantly, the Vols went 23-12 when Dobbs was the starter. In fact, in Butch Jones’ nearly 5 years as Tennessee head coach, the only SEC games he won were with Dobbs as the starting quarterback.
Dobbs made up for a lot of mistakes, somehow staying in the lineup while working behind an iffy offensive line during most of his time. He could extend plays in ways no Tennessee quarterback could since Tee Martin in the late ’90s.
Backup: Tyler Bray (2010-12)
It’s true that Bray had a million-dollar arm. He’s 4th all-time for Tennessee in passing yards (7,444), including a single-game school-record 530 in a win over Troy in 2012. In fact, 4 of Tennessee’s top 7 single-game passing yardage marks are by Bray. The other 3? Owned by Peyton Manning.
RB: Jalen Hurd (2014-16)
While his tenure at Tennessee ended in less than stellar fashion, Hurd was a major part of the Vols offense for 2 1/2 seasons. Hurd quit the team midway through the 2016 season with 2,638 rushing yards, 6th in Tennessee history. He was only 441 yards away from breaking Travis Henry’s Tennessee record.
He had 11 100-yard games at Tennessee. He had more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2014 and 2015. His touchdown catch on the wheel route started the Vols on a historic come-from-behind victory over Florida in 2016.
Backup: Rajion Neal (2010-13)
He was the team leader in rushing yards for 2 seasons with 708 in 2012 and 1,124 in 2013. He also scored a total of 24 touchdowns during his 4 years with the Vols. Since his best years corresponded with 2 awful seasons at the end of the Derek Dooley era and beginning of the Jones regime, Neal isn’t remembered as often.
RB: Alvin Kamara (2015-16)
The transfer from Alabama had 1,188 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016. Kamara’s best game as a Vol came that season at Texas A&M, when he collected a school-record 312 all-purpose yards. He had 3 touchdowns in that game.
His college career, though, is one of missed opportunity. He averaged approximately 10 touches per game and was underutilized during his 2 seasons in Knoxville. Kamara was also a solid contributor on special teams.
Backup: John Kelly (2015-17)
In 2017, Tennessee’s offense struggled mightily, but Kelly made the most of his opportunity. After waiting 2 years behind Hurd and Kamara to be the main guy, Kelly led the Vols in rushing yards (778) and receptions (37). He also scored 9 touchdowns that season. In all, he scored 15 touchdowns in his 3 seasons with the Vols.
WR: Justin Hunter (2010-12)
When you look at the most prolific offense in Tennessee history, Hunter has to get some attention. During his Tennessee career, Hunter caught 106 passes for 1,812 yards and 18 touchdowns. In that historic 2012 season alone, he had 73 catches for 1,083 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was named to the AP All-SEC 2nd team that season.
His college career was limited by a torn ACL suffered in the 2011 Florida game.
Backup: Da’Rick Rogers (2010-11)
A former 5-star prospect out of Calhoun, Ga., Rogers had a brief but memorable career at Tennessee. He was a key get for Dooley’s first recruiting class in 2010. He led the Vols in receiving in 2011 with 67 catches for 1,040 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was named to the AP All-SEC team in 2011 as well.
Rogers was kicked off the team prior to the 2012 season. He later admitted to failing multiple drug tests while at Tennessee.
WR: Josh Malone (2014-16)
Malone was a huge addition to the Class of 2016, and he lived up to the hype with 104 catches for 1,608 yards and 14 touchdowns in his 3 seasons in Knoxville. In 2016, he led the Vols in receiving with 50 catches for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Malone started 31 games during his Tennessee career. His 4th-quarter touchdown against Florida in 2016 proved to be the winning score.
Backup: Marquez North (2013-15)
Sometimes forgotten because his 3 seasons were also 3 losing seasons at Tennessee, North still caught 74 passes for 874 yards and 5 touchdowns. He started 21 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons. His 39-yard catch with 1 hand late in the 2013 South Carolina game helped the Vols upset the 11th-ranked Gamecocks.
WR: Jauan Jennings (2015-19)
Jennings will be remembered as one of the most beloved players of this era. His touchdowns in the 4th quarter in the 2016 Florida and Georgia games are the stuff of legend. Jennings has also been a player not afraid to throw his body around, with an ability to break tackles. In 2019, he led the Vols to a much-needed win over South Carolina with 7 catches for 174 yards and 2 scores.
Jennings will finish his college career in the top 10 at Tennessee in receptions, touchdown receptions and receiving yards.
Backup: Marquez Callaway (2016-19)
Callaway got his big-play reputation after picking up 115 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns on 4 catches in the 2017 season opener against Georgia Tech. He has been one of the best in the SEC this season, with more than 20 yards per reception. He has also been a contributor on special teams, averaging more than 13 yards per return with 3 returns for touchdowns.
TE: Mychal Rivera (2010-12)
The JUCO transfer got better in each of his 3 seasons at Tennessee, going from 11 catches in 2010 to 29 in 2011 and then 36 in 2012. Rivera was picked to the Coaches’ All-SEC team in 2012 with 562 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. He also started all but 2 of his 37 games as a Vol.
Rivera is often a forgotten part of that 2012 offense due to all the firepower that Bray, Hunter and company provided.
Backup: Ethan Wolf (2014-17)
He was a steady contributor for the Vols, starting 47 of the Vols’ 50 games between 2014-17. He ranks in the top 5 in Tennessee history in receiving yards for a tight end (996). He also had 7 touchdowns, the biggest coming in the 3rd quarter of the 2016 Florida game.
OT: Ja’Wuan James (2010-13)
One of the best offensive tackles in Tennessee history, James started all 49 games of his college career, each of those at right tackle. James was thought of so highly by his coaches and teammates that he represented the Vols at SEC Media Days in both 2012 and 2013. He was named to the 2013 Associated Press All-SEC 2nd team
Backup: Brett Kendrick (2013-17)
Originally recruited by Dooley, Kendrick spent 5 seasons with the Vols. He started every game as a junior in 2016. His versatility was important that season, as he split time at both left and right tackle.
OT: Dallas Thomas (2009-13)
Thomas was named to the 2012 AP All-SEC 2nd team. He was a constant on Tennessee’s offensive line and started the final 37 games of his career. During the 2012 season, he was a big part of protecting Bray when that offensive line allowed only 8 sacks.
Backup: Tiny Richardson (2011-13)
Richardson was considered the top prospect in the state of Tennessee for the class of 2011. He started the final 24 games of his college career at left tackle before leaving Tennessee after his junior year. He was picked to the 2012 and 2013 All-SEC 2nd team.
OG: Trey Smith (2017-)
Smith started his college career with tremendous hype as a 5-star recruit. As a freshman in 2017, he was named to the All-SEC 2nd team and All-SEC Freshman team. Blood clots shut him down for half of his sophomore year, but he has come back strong as a junior, starting every game at left guard.
Backup: Marcus Jackson (2011-14)
A biceps injury cost Jackson his redshirt senior season in 2015. Still, he started every game as a redshirt junior in 2014. He played in all 12 games and started 5 for the Vols as a true freshman in 2011.
OG: Zach Fulton (2010-13)
He took over the right guard position at the beginning of his sophomore year and never gave it up, starting the final 37 games of his college career. Fulton also saw some time at the position in all 12 games in his freshman year. Fulton represented Tennessee in the 2013 East-West Shrine Game.
Backup: Ryan Johnson (2017-)
Johnson has started every game for the Vols in 2018 and 2019, after playing in each game as a redshirt freshman in 2017. A former 4-star recruit from Brentwood Academy, Johnson already has earned his degree in civil engineering.
C: James Stone (2010-13)
Stone started the final 24 games of his college career, 23 of those at center. Stone, a Nashville native, was a left-hander and would give snaps with his left hand but switch to right-handed snaps when the quarterback was in the shotgun. He also got 5 starts at center as a freshman, and he was named to the Football Writers Association of America’s Freshman All-America team.
Backup: Coleman Thomas (2014-17)
As a sophomore, he started 12 of the Vols’ 13 games at center. During that season, Thomas paved holes for Hurd and Kamara as the Vols rushed for more than 2,900 yards. Thomas also started 9 games as a junior in 2016.
Kick/Punt Returner: Cordarrelle Patterson (2012)
Did you ever see him play in college? In his lone season in 2012, Patterson seemed to come up with at least 1 breathtaking moment per game. Patterson holds Tennessee’s all-time single-season total yardage mark with 1,858 (308 rushing, 778 receiving, 772 punt/kick return). He had 10 touchdowns that season, with 1 coming on a kick return and 1 on a punt return.
Patterson was a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches, who began kicking away from him on a consistent basis.
Backup: Evan Berry (2014-17)
Berry had 1,820 kick return yards in his career, second in school history to Willie Gault. He also played in the Tennessee secondary and had a memorable 100-yard interception return at the end of a 45-6 Outback Bowl blowout of Northwestern after the 2015 season.
Punter: Trevor Daniel (2015-17)
A walk-on, Daniel was a very important part of Tennessee’s success, especially in 2015 and 2016, when he punted a combined 130 times and averaged 45 yards per boot. And in the Vols’ lost season of 2017, he set the Tennessee single-season record by averaging 47.5 yards per punt. He’s 2nd in career punting yards at Tennessee with 9,185.
Daniel is perhaps best remembered for a 56-yard punt that went out of bounds at the 1-yard line in the 2015 Georgia game. It came with less than 2 minutes to go and helped the Vols pull off the upset.
Backup: Michael Palardy (2010-13)
He’s 3rd all-time at Tennessee in punting average at 42.9. Between 2010-13, Palardy punted 117 times in 46 games. In 2013, he tied for the top spot in FBS for punts that landed inside the 20 with 33.
Kicker: Aaron Medley (2014-17)
Medley made 58 of 81 field-goal attempts, 4th all-time at Tennessee in both categories. His 32-yard field goal in overtime at South Carolina in 2014 proved to be the winning score. He earned the starting job as a true freshman from Lewisburg, Tenn.
Medley had a career-long 49-yard field goal in his final game at Tennessee, against Vanderbilt in 2017. He was also on the 2015 SEC Academic Honor Roll.
Backup: Michael Palardy (2010-13)
Yes, there he is again. Palarady not only punted but often handled place-kicking duties as well. He made 37 field goals at Tennessee on 50 attempts. His chip-shot field goal in the final seconds won the 2013 South Carolina game.