Vols getting stoked for new season

By Travis Brown
STAR STAFF
tbrown@starhq.com

   The annual University of Tennessee football media day, held Thursday at Neyland Stadium, has official kicked off this season's quest for the national championship.
   With improved talent and a refreshed and inspired attitude, the 2002 version of the orange attack is once again hunting for college football's biggest prize... the Sears National Championship Trophy.
   The few question marks this season for the Volunteers can be found in the offensive backfield and the on the defensive line.
   Graduation and the NFL have hit the Vols hard this offseason, with two defensive linemen going to the big dance in the first round of NFL draft.
   However, the four young men who will line up on the defensive front will be experienced seniors who are thirsty for some success.
   Defensive end Omari Hand is hopeful that his impact will be a strong one for the Volunteer defense.
   "I'm excited just to play for this team, we've worked real hard this summer and we know what we're capable of," said Hand. "We've got to go out there do what we are capable of doing."
   Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin is also stoked about this season's potential.
   "I feel comfortable playing inside, and I hope to use my speed to make plays," said Franklin. "I want to get a lot more sacks and step up my level of play this year."
   The other area of interest this season will be at the tailback position, where three young men will vie for the position vacated by Travis Stephens.
   Although a frontrunner is yet to be determined, the trio of Cedric Houston, Jabari Davis and Derrick Tinsley will platoon early in the season for the Vols.
   With those areas of the squad taken care of, the remainder of the Volunteer roster looks quite impressive.
   The offensive line, according to head coach Phil Fulmer, "has the capability to be one of the best we've had in recent years. I think we'll be fine."
   Heading up the offense is the highly-touted "iceman" Casey Clausen, whose calm demeanor and lethal ability will command a passing attack that packs plenty of ordinance.
   With the wide receiver threat of Kelley Washington to push the field, and tight end Jason Witten to go over the middle, Clausen will have all the weapons he needs to light up opposing defenses this fall.
   Clausen has been surrounded by the limelight since last season and hopes to take this team one step further than last year's disappointment in the SEC championship game.
   Witten has used last year as motivation to become an even better ballplayer. After a tough game against Florida, the former Elizabethton standout has made it a priority to be the best he can be.
   "I think about that game every day. I feed off of that, and if you are a competitor, you'll never forget an experience like that," said Witten. "It's made me better."
   Washington and Witten are setting high goals for themselves this season, and if they are able to reach them, the volunteer faithful will be quite happy with the results.
   With experience returning in the defensive secondary, and a solid group of linebackers to sure up the D, the Vols are hoping to run the table in this upcoming campaign.
   Three keys for this season for the Vols if they are to stay in the hunt.
   1: Explosiveness in the kicking game: Alex Walls and Dustin Colquitt are solid. However, Fulmer is looking for some exciting return men to make big plays.
   2: Key players staying healthy: Witten, Washington and Clausen must stay 100 percent, especially early in the season while the Vols have time to build depth.
   3: Staying power: The Vols have the talent, and they have the attitude, but they must maintain that desire. In the past they have let down for some big games, big games that they were capable of winning.