- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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2012 record: 5-7
2012 conference record: 1-7, (sixth, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; Defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Rajion Neal* (708 yards)
Passing: Tyler Bray (3,612 yards)
Receiving: Justin Hunter (1,083 yards)
Tackles: A.J. Johnson* (138)
Sacks: Darrington Sentimore (4)
Interceptions: Byron Moore* (5)
1. Buying into the new staff: There are always those awkward first moments with a new coaching staff, but the Vols seemed to go through spring pretty smoothly with new coach Butch Jones and his staff. This team didn’t have time to question Jones and his guys because the program has been trending downward for sometime now. Thanks to Jones, you could tell there was a lot more excitement in Knoxville this spring.
2. Defensive comfort: It looks like Tennessee’s defense adjusted back to a 4-3 defense will this spring. After struggling all year with the SEC’s worst defense in a 3-4 scheme under Sal Sunseri, Vols defenders really took to defensive coordinator John Jancek’s 4-3. With good experience coming back in the front seven, which proved to be a much more aggressive front this spring. If those guys continue to improve, it will help mask some of the issues in the secondary.
3. Sapp's emergence: With Herman Lathers gone, the Vols were in search of a valuable replacement, and it looks like they found it in senior Dontavis Sapp. He entered the spring with just two career starts and was Lathers' backup at the Will spot last year, but was Tennessee's most consistent defender this spring. His development this spring was very important with Curt Maggitt out for the spring while he recovered from the ACL injury he suffered last fall.
1. Quarterback competition: Jones left the spring saying that both Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman were about even for the starting quarterback spot. Worley was a little more consistent this spring and has game experience, but Jones is now putting the team in their hands, as they head into the summer. This competition won’t officially be decided until fall camp, so neither can afford to slip now.
2. Wide receiver issues: The Vols lost 2,914 yards and 26 touchdowns from their top four pass-catchers in 2012. Tennessee is in desperate need of finding quality replacements to help its inexperienced quarterbacks this fall. Pig Howard is expected to make an impact this fall, but struggled this spring. Sophomore Cody Blanc showed good strides, and the staff needs more out of redshirt freshmen Drae Bowles and Jason Croom.
3. Thin secondary: Tennessee still has some work to do in its secondary. Brian Randolph's return will be nice, but the numbers are still thin throughout the defensive backfield, especially at cornerback. Justin Coleman emerged as the Vols' top option at corner, but the spot opposite him still hasn't been determined. Having Eric Gordon away from the team for disciplinary reasons doesn't help, either. There were signs of improvement from the secondary, but it's still very much a work in progress.
3dSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf