By Frank Gale
The Vols are back from their short camp away from Knoxville and all reports are they had a very successful trip to east Tennessee. The folks at Milligan College did their best to make the Vols feel right at home during the stay. I heard they even had the chapel bells play "Rocky Top."
The best news is they return relatively healthy and ready for the final weeks of preparation for North Carolina State. There is only 14 more days for the Big Orange Nation to wait until the start of the highly anticipated 2012 season.
The Wolfpack will be retooling their passing game after losing one of their more experienced receivers to injury. Although they had an anemic running game last season, they are returning two experienced backs that will test the new Sunseri defense. Who will be starting in that new defense is still evolving, especially in the secondary.
The Vols got off to a great start last season before injuries derailed their season. They will look to reverse their recent struggles against ACC opponents in this opener. At least this time, they will be playing an ACC team before the effects of an SEC campaign takes its toll.
Reports from the Vols' last scrimmage were highlighted by an improved running game and Michael Palardy’s field goal accuracy. Both had no where to go but up after the disappointing showing on both fronts last season. Of course, it is hard to judge real improvement from a scrimmage; that will be determined when they line up against an experienced NC State defense in two weeks.
Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has been spotted with this huge smile permanently affixed to his face. The prospect of an improved running attack with an experienced offensive line to complement one of the best passing games in the SEC are just a few of the reasons for Jim’s pleasant disposition. While he will be looking forward to calling plays this year, there will be more than a few defensive coordinators having sleepless nights.
The basketball Vols returned this week from their trip to Italy that saw them handle the competition with relative ease. If only the regular season could be that easy. Still, the team bonding on a trip like this despite competitive competition will make this a better team later this fall.
I see that Vanderbilt will get a jump on the Vols when they play South Carolina the night before the UT opener. I am sure that Jim Butler will be predicting an upset in this one. I doubt that will happen, even if it would help the Vols' chances to make a return trip to the Georgia Dome in December. With a Spurrier team and Vandy involved in this one, maybe I will just hope for a tie. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)