<
>

Tennessee's spring game: Five things to watch

4/23/2015

Like a lot of teams this spring, Tennessee is having to modify its spring game because of a lack of bodies at key positions. While coach Butch Jones plans to have some sort of 11-on-11 game on Saturday, they'll have some one-on-one drills taking place as well.

Still, there are more than a few things to watch when the Volunteers take the field this weekend:

1. Increased speed and athleticism at safety: We know about cornerback Cameron Sutton and safety Brian Randolph, but keep an eye on young safeties Evan Berry and Todd Kelly Jr. Both of them have really turned some heads this spring and have proven to be very gifted players. Both guys played in all 13 games last season, but Kelly started three games and finished the season with 33 tackles and tied for second on the team with three interceptions. With the offense a little limited for Saturday, these two could really feast on guys.

2. Thin defensive line means completely different defense: We might see even more of what those young safeties can do because the makeup of this defense is going to be completely different with trench guys such as Curt Maggitt, Derek Barnett, Corey Vereen and Danny O'Brien out because of injuries. Not having some key pieces on the defensive line means we really won't know what to make of the defense as a whole. Can a thinner defensive line really put enough pressure on the offense to make this truly competitive? If you thought the Vols would be vanilla on defense before, wait until you see what they show -- or don't show -- with so many guys out. But do keep an eye on true freshman defensive tackle Shy Tuttle. The former ESPN 300 member and No. 7-rated defensive tackle in the 2015 recruiting class obviously has a ways to go as a player, but he's grabbed the attention of his coaches and will have plenty of opportunities with such low numbers up front.

3. Alvin Kamara: OK, so we know that rising sophomore Jalen Hurd is the No. 1 running back for the Vols, but word out of Knoxville is that Kamara has been an absolute stud in practice this spring. Plus, Hurd has been limited this spring, so this is a perfect opportunity for Kamara to show out. The junior college transfer and former Alabama signee has shown off some killer athleticism, vision, speed and elusiveness this spring. He could be a really special player, even if he is sharing carries with Hurd. Vols fans should get to see a good chunk of him Saturday, which should allow him show why he was such a highly coveted recruit a couple of years ago.

4. Play at middle linebacker: Tennessee has to find someone to take over at middle linebacker. This position, which was impacted by injuries and didn't exactly have great play from anyone this spring, is a bit of a mystery/concern for Tennessee's coaches. The position will get better once Jakob Johnson and Darrin Kirkland Jr. return from injury, but as far as Saturday is concerned, things won't exactly look very polished. Kenny Bynum has probably been the best of the bunch in the middle, but Gavin Bryant and Dillon Bates, who is pretty banged up, will get reps inside.

5. Joshua Dobbs' poise in the pocket: A lot of hope rides on the shoulders of the rising junior quarterback. His play during the last month of the 2014 season really got Vols fans excited, but now it's time to see him take a few more steps forward toward becoming a more polished quarterback. Oh, and Dobbs has to get comfortable in new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord's offense. So far, it sounds like Dobbs really likes DeBord's scheme and he's starting to come around a lot more with his technique. Now let's see how technically sound he can be in a game-like situation with the Vols being short at receiver.