Tennessee opened fall camp over the weekend, and though the pads don’t go on until this week, there’s been enough time to get some first impressions of coach Butch Jones’ second team at Tennessee.
Here are five observations that have stood out after a few practices:
1. The newcomers look impressive
It’s too early to tell how well some of them will adjust to the college game. But this class of 32 newcomers, ranked as one of the top recruiting classes in the nation in 2014, certainly brings a different level of size, speed and athleticism to the roster. Running back Jalen Hurd, offensive tackle Coleman Thomas, receivers Josh Malone and Von Pearson and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley made their presence felt when they arrived in the summer. Several newcomers who arrived over the summer are doing the same this fall. Defensive ends Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett, defensive backs Evan and Elliott Berry, cornerback Rashaan Gaulden and linebacker Dillon Bates, even as freshmen, are among the more physically impressive players in their position groups.
2. The quarterbacks are off to a slow start
It’s still very early and the live action hasn’t started. But accuracy has been questionable at best as all eyes have been on quarterbacks Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs in the opening days of camp. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian agreed that the consistency hasn’t been there. “No, nobody in particular has demonstrated that,” he said when asked if any of the quarterbacks have shown consistent accuracy.
3. The defensive line is smaller, though quicker
It’s tough to replace the size of defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, who tipped the scales between 350 and 370 pounds during his UT career. And though the starting front four won’t average as much total weight this season, it does look quicker with the possible starting front four of Curt Maggitt, Jordan Williams, Danny O’Brien and Corey Vereen giving the Vols more athleticism. “I would prefer athleticism over size,” said defensive line coach Steve Stripling. “We want to be an aggressive defense and we want to be able to make plays with our defensive linemen. In order to do that, you have to athletic.”
4. There is substantially more depth at wide receiver
Pearson and Malone have worked with the starters and should be impact players in 2014. Marquez North, now a sophomore, is learning the nuances of the position and can make an even bigger impact this season after making several huge catches last year. Pig Howard is back after his leave of absence in the spring and is getting reps as a slot and outside receiver. Returning players Josh Smith, Jason Croom and Johnathon Johnson are also improving. Wide receiver coach Zach Azzanni also praised newcomer Vic Wharton for his work ethic in the opening days. There are a lot of options at this spot.
5. The tight end position is back
After lack of depth and injuries decimated the position in 2013, the Vols now have some options. “We are expecting the tight end to be a big part of the offense, it always has been for us,” said tight ends coach Mark Elder. “We use them as blockers and we used them as receivers, so we are expecting a lot out of those guys, not just Ethan [Wolf] and Daniel [Helm] but the other guys as well.” Brendan Downs, A.J. Branisel and Alex Ellis are all returning off an injury. But Wolf and Helm, both freshmen, might be the most impressive looking of the bunch. After recording less than 100 yards receiving last total last year as a position group , expect this position to get more results in 2014.