Opening spring camp: Tennessee

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
5:00
PM ET
Schedule: The Volunteers open spring practice on Friday at 4:20 p.m. ET. All practices are closed to the general public. The Orange and White spring game is scheduled for April 12 at 3 p.m. ET in Neyland Stadium.

What’s new: There weren’t any changes on Butch Jones’ coaching staff. All nine position coaches return in their same roles.

[+] EnlargeJalen Reeves-Maybin
Charles Mitchell/Icon SMILinebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin will take on a bigger role for Tennessee in 2014.
On the mend: Safety Brian Randolph (shoulder), defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry (knee), receiver Drae Bowles (shoulder) and tight ends A.J. Branisel (knee) and Brendan Downs (knee) will miss the spring while recovering from injuries and/or surgeries. Receiver Pig Howard isn't injured, but will not take part in the spring while taking care of personal business. It's unclear whether he will return to the team in the fall.

On the move: Sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin made the move from safety to linebacker late last season as a freshman and will spend this spring at weakside linebacker. This will be his first spring at linebacker. He enrolled early last year but missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery.

New faces: The Vols have 14 early enrollees from their 2014 signing class on campus, including 11 freshmen. A pair of junior college newcomers -- offensive tackle Dontavius Blair and receiver Von Pearson -- could be immediate starters. Freshman Coleman Thomas will also get a long look at offensive tackle, while running back Jalen Hurd and receiver Josh Malone were two of the highest-rated players at their positions nationally.

Question marks: There are a ton of unknowns for the Vols on both lines of scrimmage. In fact, 12 players are gone on the offensive and defensive lines from a season ago, including all five starters on the offensive line. Blair will get a chance to win the left tackle job this spring, and Thomas will be in the mix for the right tackle job. The Vols redshirted Marcus Jackson last season, and he will be a key at guard. It's also wide open on the defensive line, and most of the help on that side of the ball won't be on campus until this summer when the likes of Dewayne Hendrix, Michael Sawyers, Derek Barnett and Charles Mosley arrive. There's also a huge void at safety, especially with Randolph out for the spring. The Vols like their safety signees -- Todd Kelly Jr., Cortez McDowell and Rashaan Gaulden -- but they won't arrive until the summer.

[+] EnlargeJustin Worley
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesSenior Justin Worley is back healthy for the Volunteers, but he will battle three others to start at quarterback.
Key battle: It's a four-man race for the Vols' starting quarterback job. Three players saw action last season, but the guy who didn't play -- redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson -- has as good a chance as any to win the job. He's got a big arm and a nice release and is plenty mobile enough. Senior Justin Worley is also healthy after missing the final part of last season with a thumb injury. Sophomore Joshua Dobbs was forced into action last season as a true freshman when Worley was hurt. He has gotten bigger and stronger during the offseason. Sophomore Nathan Peterman started the Florida game last season before suffering a broken hand.

Breaking out: Finding guys who can consistently get to the quarterback will be a priority, and sophomore defensive end Corey Vereen could be poised for a big season. The 6-foot-2, 248-pound Vereen showed promise after returning from a knee injury during fall camp last season and has the kind of burst off the line that could make him a key part of Tennessee's defense. The Vols finished last in the SEC last season with 18 sacks in 12 games.

Don't forget about: Speaking of rushing the passer, getting back junior Curt Maggitt is huge for Tennessee. He missed all of last season while recovering from ACL surgery. He'll line up at outside linebacker in Tennessee's base defense, but the Vols will also walk him up to the line on passing downs. The 6-3, 244-pound Maggitt is the most talented defender on the Vols' roster. They desperately need Maggitt to be healthy and to be a leader. Jones has been encouraged by what he has seen so far.

All eyes on: Hurd and Malone are both homegrown kids who could have gone to any school in the country. They chose Tennessee because they wanted to be a part of returning the Vols to prominence. Hurd suffered a labrum injury last season in high school, so his contact might be somewhat limited. Still, there will be a lot of pressure on Hurd and Malone to deliver the kind of explosive plays on offense Tennessee lacked last season. That's a heavy burden to carry as freshmen, but they're both oozing with talent.

Chris Low | email

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