Strong and weak: Tennessee

July, 3, 2013
7/03/13
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It’s time to check out Tennessee's strongest position and weakest position heading into the 2013 season.

Strongest position: Offensive line

Tennessee lost a ton on offense from a year ago, and the Vols were plenty explosive even though they didn't win a lot of games. In fact, they lost four games in which they scored more than 30 points. The good news for first-year coach Butch Jones is that four of the five starting offensive linemen return, and all four are likely to wind up in an NFL camp somewhere. Junior Antonio "Tiny" Richardson is a franchise left tackle. Go back and look at the job he did on both Jarvis Jones and Jadeveon Clowney last season (except for that last play against the Gamecocks). Senior right tackle Ja'Wuan James is also a future pro, while senior Zach Fulton is one of the top guards in the league. Throw in senior center James Stone, who has 27 career starts, and it all adds up to the best offensive line in the SEC. When you're good up front on offense, it masks other problems on that side of the ball. The Vols will lean heavily on their offensive line in 2013 and will need those guys to play up to their talent level and then some.

Weakest position: Receivers

All you really need to know about Tennessee's receiving corps is that every wide receiver or tight end who caught more than 13 passes a year ago is gone, including three players -- Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Mychal Rivera -- who were taken in the NFL draft. In addition, underrated Zach Rogers signed as a free agent with the Jets. That's 26 receiving touchdowns gone. There were as many errors as big plays from the Vols' receivers this spring, and Jones has admitted that they have a long way to go. Sophomore Pig Howard is the top returning wide receiver, but he's not a big target at 5-8 and 185 pounds. Redshirt freshman Jason Croom is coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him a year ago, and junior Vincent Dallas is somebody who's at least played. Sophomore Cody Blanc could be a sleeper, and it's a given that true freshmen MarQuez North and Paul Harris will have to play early. North was the gem of the 2013 signing class, but will have to learn on the run. He wasn't on campus for spring practice. It's never ideal to count on freshmen, but that's were the Vols are right now at the receiver position -- and they're equally unproven at tight end.

Chris Low | email

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