- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Tennessee Volunteers:
1. More competition: The Vols had 14 early enrollees on campus this spring, including a couple of junior college players, and that only intensified the competition for spots. Second-year coach Butch Jones made it a priority to create more competition on the practice field, helping players get to the point in which they're more battle-tested for games.
2. Infusion of skill on offense: Jones saw enough this spring to know that Tennessee will have more speed and athleticism on the field in 2014. Freshman tailback Jalen Hurd, along with freshman receiver Josh Malone and junior receiver Von Pearson, a junior college newcomer, give the Vols the kind of big-play ability they didn't have a year ago.
3. Maggitt is legit: Having redshirt junior Curt Maggitt back on defense was big on several fronts for the Vols after he missed all of last season while recovering from a knee injury. They're going to use him in several ways, including rushing the passer with his hand down, and he provides the kind of leadership and presence that Tennessee desperately needs on defense.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Defensive line muscle: Sophomore Corey Vereen was a bright spot at end, but there's not much in the way of proven players up front defensively for Tennessee, particularly at the tackle positions. The Vols will have to lean heavily on freshmen on the defensive line -- Dewayne Hendrix, Michael Sawyers, Derek Barnett and Charles Mosley -- and none of those four arrive on campus until this summer.
2. Settling on a quarterback: While senior Justin Worley would appear to the leader at this point in the quarterback race, Jones still wasn't ready to name a starter coming out of the spring. He wants to let it play out through the summer and then make a decision during preseason camp. Redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson has all the tools, although he needs to take care of the ball. Sophomore Josh Dobbs looked good in the spring game.
3. Safety help: Safety has been a problem the last couple of years for the Vols, as too many times big gains have turned into bigger gains and touchdowns. Junior Brian Randolph is going to need help, and that help probably will have to come from a trio of freshmen who haven't arrived -- Rashaan Gaulden, Todd Kelly Jr. and Cortez McDowell.
One way-too-early prediction:
It's been a while since Tennessee last enjoyed a winning season. The Vols were 7-6 in 2009, Lane Kiffin's only season in Knoxville. This team is still way too young with too many question marks on both lines of scrimmage to predict a winning regular season. But the Vols will find a way to beat one of the Big Three in the East -- Florida, Georgia or South Carolina -- and at least manage a bowl berth.
14hSam Khan Jr.
1dSam Khan Jr.