Vols Spring Football: Who Will Get The Reps?
By Dan Harralson
Spring practice starts Friday for Tennessee. It should feature a competitive group of guys considering the number of early enrollees expected to participate.
Let's take a look at the likely favorites to earn first-team reps at each position.
QB: Josh Dobbs/Riley Ferguson
Dobbs looks to build off of his four-game starting experience, but he still isn't the clear favorite. Ferguson finally is healthy and should get plenty of reps with the starting offense to showcase his skills. I would expect equal amount of practice time until one separates himself from the other.
RB: Marlin Lane
I do think newcomer Jalen Hurd will start by the end of the year. I think both will split minutes and contribute about the same. Hurd has the "it" factor, but expect the senior Lane to get the starting reps as Hurd slowly gets his feet wet collegiately. And by slowly, I mean through spring and fall camp.
WR1: Marquez North
North already has shown great physical ability on the field in 2013, and you can credit him for an acrobatic catch against South Carolina to set up the winning field goal. The upcoming sophomore put up 496 receiving yards on 38 receptions in his first collegiate season.
WR2: Josh Malone
He is a versatile player who will be almost too good for coach Butch Jones to keep off of the field, much like Hurd. The five-star in-state recruit will get a chance to showcase his skills immediately.
Slot WR: Pig Howard/Von Pearson
Howard returns after showing he can be a playmaker in the SEC. Howard already has reached the end zone five times and has reeled in 57 catches. He will continue to grow as he is accompanied by Pearson as slot-type receiver. Pearson posted a national-leading 93 receptions for 1,601 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013 at Feather River College.
TE: Daniel Helm/Ethan Wolf/Brendan Downs
Take your pick here. The UT coaching staff will get to see what all they have, and it should be a competitive spring between the three. Helm needs to put on a good 15-20 pounds, Wolf is game-ready with his size and Downs brings experience (30 games, 18 catches for 143 yards and three TDs).
RT: Coleman Thomas
Thomas continues to impress and with an added incentive of competition, the right tackle will have to hold off newcomer Kyle Kerbyson.
RG: Dylan Wiesman
Dylan signed in Jones' first Tennessee class in 2013. He came from Cincinnati, like Jones, and after being a backup and playing in 10 games, he will look to claim the starting job at right guard.
C: Mack Crowder
Crowder played in eight games last season and started in one, the upset win against South Carolina. The Bristol, Tenn., native will look to build off of his South Carolina game success throughout spring. This will be Mack's fourth spring practice as he enrolled early in 2011.
LG: Marcus Jackson
Jackson looks to return to a starting role for the first time since 2011. Jackson was part of the field goal/PAT offensive line unit '11 and '12.
LT: Dontavius Blair
Blair is another early enrollee who will see plenty of reps this spring. If you saw Jones announce the early signees, you saw how big Blair is: 6-foot-8, 300 pounds.
DT: Danny O'Brien
The redshirt sophomore played in all 12 games in 2013, producing 12 tackles and one sack. The Flint, Mich., product had a career-high three tackles along with his sack in the upset win against South Carolina.
DT: Trevarris Saulsberry
The 6-foot-4, 291-pound redshirt junior is from enemy territory (Gainesville, Fla.) Saulsberry wants to become a starter on the defensive line. He played in the first three games last season before suffering an injury against Oregon.
DE: Jordan Williams
A senior and another player from Gainesville, Fla., Williams has played in 31 games and has started in eight. Williams has posted 39 total tackles and 4.5 sacks during his time at Rocky Top.
DE: Cory Vereen
Vereen played in nine games last year after returning from knee injury he suffered early in practice. Vereen showed well in meaningful games last season. He made 13 tackles, including a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries. His totals included a career-best four tackles vs. Auburn and three tackles in back-to-back road games at Alabama and Missouri. His first career sack and tackle came against Georgia.
OLB: Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Reeves-Maybin has a nose for the football and was good enough to play in 11 of the 12 games last season. JRM recorded 14 tackles as a freshman.
MLB: A.J. Johnson
This is a no-brainer. The senior has put up 324 total tackles and has one sack at Tennessee. Johnson has started 34 of 36 games and 18 of his games have resulted in double-digit tackles. Also expect early enrollee Jakob Johnson to get plenty of reps this spring to provide depth.
OLB: Curt Maggitt
Another no-brainier and another reason the Vols have talent at the linebacker position. Maggitt redshirted in 2013 due to recovering from an ACL injury. The junior has started 17 of 20 games in 2011 and 2012, recording 86 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
CB: Cam Sutton
Sutton broke on the scene as a freshman last season and started all 12 games. Sutton made two interceptions, one sack, 39 tackles and recovered two fumbles.
CB: Malik Foreman
Foreman looks to build off of his freshman 2013 campaign in which he played in nine games. He intercepted his first career pass against Austin Peay and became the first UT true freshman since Dwayne Goodrich (1996) to have an interception in a season opener.
Nickel CB: Justin Coleman
Coleman is a good nickel coverage player. Justin has started 25 of the 36 games he has played in and is second on the team in pass breakups and fifth on the team in tackles.
SS: LaDarrell McNeil
The junior from Dallas has put up fairly even year-to-year stats during his two years in Knoxville. McNeil has one interception, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 112 total tackles.
FS: Brian Randolph
Randolph made his presence known last season in the Vols secondary. The redshirt junior tallied four interceptions, forced one fumble and totaled 75 tackles a season ago.
K: by committee
Aaron Medley will be on campus this fall, but until then it will be kicker-by-committee. George Bullock, Patrick Toole, Ryan Ault and Derrick Brodus are all on the spring roster as kickers, and all have a chance to make a name for themselves.
P: Matt Darr
The senior from Bakersfield, Calif., has not seen action since 2012, but is expected to be the punter. Darr has punted 56 times with an average of 38.4. His longest punt is 53 yards, which he has done twice.
KR/PR: Devrin Young
The local product underwent surgery in September after suffering a broken hand. He missed five games before returning against South Carolina. Young has produced 1,263 kick return yards and 312 punt return yards in three years. He's only reached the end zone as a receiver, which he did twice last year.