Friday, March 8, 2013
Opening spring camp: Tennessee
By Chris Low
Schedule: The Vols open spring practice Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ET and will conclude the spring on April 20 with their annual Orange & White game at 2 p.m. ET in Neyland Stadium.
What’s new: Butch Jones is the Vols’ fourth different head coach in the past six years. He was previously at Cincinnati for three seasons and guided the Bearcats to first-place finishes in the Big East each of the past two seasons. Several assistants followed him from Cincinnati, including offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, offensive line coach Don Mahoney, tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Mark Elder, defensive coordinator John Jancek, associate head coach and defensive line coach Steve Stripling and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez. Zach Azzanni is the receivers coach and recruiting coordinator after coaching last season at Wisconsin. Tommy Thigpen is the linebackers coach after coming over from Auburn. Former Florida running back Robert Gillespie will coach the running backs after spending the past two seasons on the West Virginia staff. Jones had originally re-hired Jay Graham from the previous Tennessee staff to coach running backs, but Graham left last week to take a job at Florida State.
On the mend: Linebacker Curt Maggitt (knee) and safety Jaylen Reeves-Maybin will both miss the spring. Offensive tackle Antonio Richardson will be limited.
On the move: Devrin Young will shift from running back and get a look at slot receiver this spring. Brent Brewer is moving from safety to linebacker. Corey Vereen and Jacques Smith will both get work at the stand-up defensive end position in the nickel package. Justin King will move to tight end from fullback.
Question marks: The Vols need to solidify the secondary. Getting safety Brian Randolph back will be huge. He was their best defensive back before tearing his ACL in the Florida game last season. The Vols will be careful with him this spring. All of Tennessee’s top receivers are departing -- Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera. It’s a big spring for all of the younger receivers, in particular Pig Howard, Drae Bowles and Jason Croom. Heralded signee MarQuez North arrives this summer. The Vols also need to find more playmakers and more depth up front defensively. Daniel McCullers and Maurice Couch will be key on the interior of that defensive line.
New faces: Junior college cornerback Riyahd Jones has a chance to be a starter from the outset. The Vols struggled to cover anybody last season. True freshman Paul Harris, an early enrollee, could crack the receiver rotation.
Key battle: The Vols have to find a replacement for Tyler Bray at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman is a good athlete who can move around and make plays. He was recruited by Jones and Bajakian at Cincinnati. Junior Justin Worley has the most experience and has a few starts under his belt. He’s not as athletic as Peterman, but is smart and has improved his arm strength. It should be a close race.
Breaking out: Redshirt freshman LaTroy Lewis would have played extensively last season as a true freshman, but was injured during preseason camp. He’s moving to defensive end from outside linebacker in the Vols’ new 4-3 scheme and has everything it takes to be a dynamic finisher off the edge. The Vols haven’t had more than 17 sacks in a season since 2010.
Don’t forget about: Tennessee’s offensive line should be one of the best in college football next season with four returning starters who all have a chance to play in the NFL. Six offensive linemen are returning who’ve started games for the Vols. Alex Bullard and Marcus Jackson will compete for Dallas Thomas’ left guard job.