Tennessee Vols position battles


For the first time in several years, there’s no doubt who the Tennessee Volunteers' starting quarterback will be. But while Joshua Dobbs enjoys his status as QB1, not all of his teammates are as well established on the depth chart.

1. Offensive line: Tennessee survived last season without a single returning starter on the offensive line so things can’t get any worse. But if you’re coach Butch Jones, you didn’t like the news that offensive guard Marcus Jackson sustained an injury that could cost him the entire season. While Jackson wasn’t the most talented lineman on the roster, it’s hard to discount the experience of a fifth-year senior with 17 career starts. Now the Vols turn to a slew of freshmen to replace Jackson and push for playing time on the O-line: Venzell Boulware, Jack Jones, Chance Hall and Drew Richmond. Jones, in particular, has impressed Butch Jones with his “tough-mindedness” and eagerness in seeking out extra coaching. Hall, on the other hand, has had the light go on after a rough spring, according to Jones.

2. Defensive line: Butch Jones loves his true freshmen on the defensive line, too. Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle came in as hyped prospects, and both have shown early in preseason camp that they can play. The same goes for Kyle Phillips, who was less talked about but became the first freshman to have his black stripe removed during camp. The problem is that all three won’t be able to play significant reps. The starting lineup is pretty well set with Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen at end and Owen Williams and Danny O’Brien at tackle. Which means the race to fill the second unit is on for McKenzie, Tuttle and Phillips. You have to imagine at least one of the three will take a redshirt.

3. Linebacker: Outside linebackers Curt Maggitt and Jalen Reeves-Maybin return after a combined 149 tackles in 2014. But the third linebacker of the bunch -- middle linebacker -- is largely unknown. As Butch Jones told local reporters this month, it’s a spot that "obviously is going to be extremely competitive." That leaves the door open for a handful of players: Kenny Bynum, Gavin Bryant, Dillon Bates, Colton Jumper and Darrin Kirkland. Bates, a former four-star recruit, played in four games as a true freshman last year and could have the highest upside of that bunch.