Tennessee Football: Projecting the Volunteers' Post Spring 2-Deep Depth Chart
Several questions were answered during the Tennessee Volunteers' recently completed spring practice.
When it comes to an established depth chart exiting spring, head coach Butch Jones doesn't have one. Don't expect one anytime soon, either.
Instead, the second-year Top Vol told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) he was more interested in trying to put each player in the best place to excel.
"We took more of an individual approach as coaches than offense or defense or a sides-of-the-ball approach," said Jones. "It was every individual, and evaluating where they were throughout the course of the spring, how they finished and what they need to do to continue to get better."
That's why—as is the case with a lot of spring practices across college football—UT moved players around to look for the best 22 players on the field.
While the puzzle won't be complete until the remaining 18 recruits get on campus, a picture of the 2014-15 Vols began to emerge. Let's take a look at our best guess for UT's projected two-deep depth chart heading into the summer months.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, and observations were made firsthand during spring.
Starter: Justin Worley
Backup: Riley Ferguson
Other Contenders: Joshua Dobbs
If the quarterback who had the most command of the offense, the most experience and made the fewest mistakes was named the starter, that player would (today, at least) be Justin Worley.
Worley is the elder statesman of four players vying to be the Vols' QB1, and he did nothing to tarnish those hopes through the spring or Orange and White Game.
The senior from Rock Hill, S.C. was visibly more crisp with his timing, tempo and throwing.
Dobbs (four touchdowns) impressed in the spring finale and closed the gap significantly on Ferguson, who struggled.
Still, one scrimmage does not make all the difference, and Ferguson was ahead of Dobbs through the first three weeks of drills. That doesn't change overnight.
Coaches are still looking for somebody to seize command, but there's excitement in the options. Any of the top three can still win the job, and it's going to be an exciting battle to watch leading up to the opener against Utah State.
Starter: Marlin Lane
Backup: Jalen Hurd
Other Contenders: Devrin Young, Derrell Scott
Really, this should be a 1a and 1b starter for the Vols. Rising senior Marlin Lane has recommitted himself to football, and he displayed a toughness never seen from him this spring when he battled through a broken hand.
He will receive plenty of carries to start and throughout the season.
But it's going to be near impossible to keep the 6'3", 230-pound Hurd off the field. As he showcased in the Orange and White Game with 93 all-purpose yards, he's a serious talent. Butch Jones said he was "going to be a special player for us."
Indeed, the Vols will have a two-headed monster unlike they've had since Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty roamed the backfield. Young and Scott will battle for third-down carries and for the rights to provide a change of pace.
Starter: Ethan Wolf
Backup: Daniel Helm
Other Contenders: Brendan Downs, A.J. Branisel, Alex Ellis
The Vols infused a serious talent upgrade when Wolf and Helm arrived on campus, and neither of them disappointed this spring.
At 6'5", 243 pounds, Wolf is the complete package, and it's expected he'll get the starting nod. Tight ends coach Mark Elder told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) that Wolf was a complete player.
He can do everything that we need him to do, as far as lining up as a tight end, off the ball as, like, an H-back position or flexing out as a receiver and going out and being a playmaker out there as well. I really like what I see from him in those regards. I think that he'll be successful in every aspect of our offense.
But Helm is a serious receiving threat who brings a level of athleticism to the position the Vols haven't had since current Oakland Raider Mychal Rivera's senior season.
Downs and Branisel picked the wrong time to be injured. Still, the two players who got most of last year's reps at the position will factor into the depth-chart equation. But they'll have to take it from the youngsters.
Starters: Marquez North, Josh Malone, Von Pearson
Backups: Jason Croom, Josh Smith, Johnathon Johnson
Other Contenders: Pig Howard, Jacob Carter
Far and away Tennessee's deepest, most talented position, the pass-catchers have given Vols fans everywhere a reason to hope for big things offensively.
Few defensive backs in the conference will be able to match the size/speed/talent of North, Malone and Pearson. If they develop the way they are capable, the next couple of years on Rocky Top will be fun.
Perhaps the most exciting thing for UT is the fact that the backups are extremely talented as well. The 6'5" Croom could start for many SEC teams and will battle Malone for those honors at UT. Smith is solid as well.
If Howard returns from his current leave of absence from the team (a big if), last year's receptions leader will provide depth behind Pearson in the slot and make the group that much better.
Starters: Jacob Gilliam, Marcus Jackson, Mack Crowder, Kyler Kerbyson, Coleman Thomas
Backups: Dontavius Blair, Dylan Wiesman, Austin Sanders
Other Contenders: Jason Carr, Brett Kendrick
There is talent at the position, but depth is a major concern. So is consistency.
The storyline is old and worn by now: UT must replace all five starters from a season ago. That huge question mark was answered with equal parts concern and excitement this spring, depending on the day.
An interior of Jackson, Crowder and Kerbyson is solid. Super-utility player Wiesman will be the team's sixth lineman as well.
The questions remain on the exterior as right tackle Thomas looked like a super-talented true freshman this spring, and JUCO transfer Blair lost his job to a fifth-year walk-on from nearby Farragut in Gilliam.
Blair is blessed with the physical gifts to be special, but he hasn't found any consistency yet. If he does this offseason, he'll beat out Gilliam. But questions will remain.
Jason Carr's move from defense to offensive tackle is intriguing and exciting. While it's a disappointment that he couldn't crack a wide-open rotation on defense, adding his 6'5", 292-pound frame to the mix at a thin offensive tackle spot could help immediately.
UT needs depth. Fast.
Starters: Jordan Williams, Owen Williams, Trevarris Saulsberry, Corey Vereen
Backups: Dimarya Mixon, Danny O'Brien, Dewayne Hendrix, LaTroy Lewis
Other Contenders: Jakob Johnson, Derek Barnett, Michael Sawyers, Charles Mosley, Kendal Vickers, Joe Henderson, Jaylen Miller
Nowhere will the impact of the non-midterm newcomers be felt more than the defensive line.
The unit was a cause for constant consternation throughout spring. Following the spring finale where the defense was pummeled, Butch Jones was asked where defensive improvement is needed.
"Well, it's everywhere," he said. "But it starts up front on the defensive line. That's no secret."
It's also not a secret that the incoming freshmen will play a lot. Guys like Barnett, Sawyers, Mosley and Henderson were 4-star prospects with huge offer sheets.
In a perfect world, they'd redshirt. But UT's defensive line shape is far from perfect.
Linebacker Curt Maggitt will shift down to end in nickel situations, and the Vols will run out of those sets the majority of the time. Johnson is another player who will play with his hand down as well as having the flexibility to play on the second level.
Saulsberry will help considerably once he's healthy after missing spring drills. The midterm duo of Mixon and Owen Williams proved they'll help considerably as well.
Finding the right four players is going to be a chore, but there is talent everywhere. It's just the experience that UT can't replicate.
Starters: Curt Maggitt, A.J. Johnson, Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Backups: Chris Weatherd, Kenny Bynum, Dillon Bates
Other Contenders: Gavin Bryant
A season ago, UT simply didn't have the horses at linebacker.
This year, it should be the defense's strength.
Johnson's decision to return for his senior season gives the Vols an anchor on the interior. Maggitt's return from injury already has made a major difference, and his versatility will be evident as he's moved all over the field.
Reeves-Maybin (or JRM, as he's called by Vols fans) was a pleasant surprise in the spring game, surging to make tackles all over the field.
Though he needs to gain 10 pounds this offseason, the future is bright there athletically. He and Maggitt give UT something it didn't have with Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer last year.
Star prospects like Weatherd, Bates and Bryant will provide quality depth, and UT linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen has some nice pieces there. Now, he just has to put it all together.
Starters: Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, Brian Randolph, Todd Kelly Jr.
Backups: Justin Coleman, Malik Foreman, LaDarrell McNeil, Rashaan Gaulden/Cortez McDowell
Other Contenders: Evan Berry, Devaun Swafford, D'Andre Payne
Tennessee desperately missed one of its leaders this spring as Brian Randolph recovered from surgery, but he is expected to return full-go.
Even with his presence, newcomers will be relied upon in the secondary, where true freshman Moseley already has earned a starting spot.
The Vols must do something about McNeil's inadequacy on the back level, and the infusion of TKJr., Gaulden and McDowell should address it. Surely out of those three highly regarded prospects, one will be an upgrade.
Moving Coleman to nickel was an excellent decision, and he shined at the crucial position a year removed from getting torched on the outside. Getting him closer to the middle of the field allowed his attributes (such as physicality and tackling) to show.
Sutton is steady-to-spectacular at corner, and going against Marquez North every day in practice will only make him better. Foreman will challenge Moseley into fall, and getting Berry on campus and in the rotation will fuel competition as well.
The Vols are rebuilding this unit, and they'll have considerably more speed on the back end than a season ago.
Starting Kicker: Aaron Medley
Starting Punter: Matt Darr
Backups: George Bullock, Derrick Brodus
Bullock and Darr showed flashes of being good specialists throughout the spring, but both are too inconsistent to be relied upon just yet.
Darr's job is safest, as the Vols don't have a lot of solid options punting. Everybody is hoping he can have the same kind of senior resurgence that Michael Palardy enjoyed in 2013.
As for Knoxville, Tenn. native Bullock, his competency is refreshing simply because there is an unknown with incoming freshman Medley, who was kicking at Marshall County (Tenn.) High School last year.
Medley has a big leg, and if he can show any consistency at all, it will be difficult to keep him off the field.
Replacing Palardy is going to be a tall task, but UT has to do it, and open casting already has begun.