Spring game: 2 p.m. ET on Saturday
Questions answered: Even though Tauren Poole topped 1,000 yards rushing last season, the Vols’ running game lacked consistency. Coach Derek Dooley felt like they left too many yards on the field. This spring, they added another piece to that running game in sophomore Rajion Neal, who had some big scrimmages. Dooley feels like you have to have two No. 1 running backs to make it in the SEC, and both of the incoming freshmen (Marlin Lane and Tom Smith) will get their shot when they arrive this summer. The Vols’ continued development in the offensive line was also one of the highlights of the spring, and they’re building depth up front. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James, right guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone are all returning starters who played last season as true freshmen. Sophomore Alex Bullard, who transferred from Notre Dame, has worked at left tackle and is somebody who will definitely be in the rotation if he gets a hardship waiver from the NCAA. Marcus Jackson, a highly rated true freshman who enrolled early, has been a starter all spring at left guard.
Questions unanswered: Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray added a few pounds, got a lot stronger and gained a deeper understanding of the Vols’ playbook. But it remains to be seen if he’s the kind of leader who can help take this team to the upper echelon of the SEC. Bray said he made a conscientious effort to be more vocal this spring. What’s not up for debate is his ability to throw the football. He has a big-time arm and is fearless in the pocket. The entire front seven on defense also remains a huge question mark. Tennessee lost five of its seven starters from a year ago, including key leaders such as Nick Reveiz and Chris Walker. The Vols were still shuffling guys around on the defensive line this spring to find the right combination, and the jury’s still out on whether they have enough SEC-quality linebackers. Staying on defense, the Vols will probably be counting on a pair of junior college players (Byron Moore and Izauea Lanier) to come in and play right away in the secondary, especially with no guarantees that safety Janzen Jackson will be back.
Spring stars: Sophomore Da’Rick Rogers has All-SEC receiver written all over him. He’s a 6-foot-3, 215-pound specimen who can go get the football with the best of them. He made huge strides this spring in the finer points of playing receiver and made as many big plays as anybody on the team. He and fellow sophomore Justin Hunter as a combo should be something to see. Sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith was one of the Vols’ top defenders this spring and has a chance to be a dominant pass-rusher. He suffered an injury to his foot (believed to be a broken bone) this week in practice that will likely sideline him until June. Sophomore Brent Brewer, who made a big impact a year ago in his debut, has been lighting people up at safety and made even more improvement this spring.
Of note: James has missed the past two and a half weeks of practice with mono. … The Vols would like to get sophomore fullback Channing Fugate more involved in the offense. The 251-pound Fugate rushed for 3,000 yards as a junior in high school. … Tennessee appears set at the kicking positions with sophomore Michael Palardy handling the place-kicking duties and redshirt freshman Matt Darr doing the punting. … Junior safety Prentiss Waggner broke one of his fingers and has played the last two weeks with one of those clubs over his cast. … True freshman Vincent Dallas has made a strong push this spring to be a part of the receiver rotation next season, and Bray said sophomore Matt Milton is also coming on. Milton, who’s 6-foot-5, would fit in nicely with the 6-4 Hunter and 6-3 Rogers. The Vols also have heralded freshman receiver DeAnthony Arnett arriving this summer.