Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs train with QB guru George Whitfield

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. had two familiar faces among his pupils this week in San Diego.

Vols senior Justin Worley and sophomore Joshua Dobbs trained with the noted quarterbacks coach. Check out Whitfield’s timeline for some of the other quarterbacks who worked with him this week.

Worley and Dobbs, of course, are among the four quarterbacks vying for the starting job at Tennessee.

Whitfield is a respected quarterbacks coach best known for grooming players like Cam Newton in advance of the NFL draft. But he also works with high school and college kids.

The group even had time to visit with the San Diego Padres and meet manager Bud Black.

With Jacob Gilliam and Devaun Swafford now on scholarship, a look at the Vols’ roster

Devaun Swafford in practice this spring (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — With space available on the team’s 85-man scholarship roster, Tennessee coach Butch Jones awarded scholarships to the two most logical choices.

Fifth-year senior Jacob Gilliam has been a longtime walk-on and is in line to potentially start at offensive tackle this year. Second-year sophomore Devaun Swafford was thrown into the fire and played regularly as a nickel back in 2013. He’ll be in the regular rotation in 2014, possibly as a safety.

Jones told News Sentinel partner GoVols247 about the news Tuesday night.

Jacob Gilliam in practice this spring (photo by Evan Woodbery)

“They’re very consistent in their approach, and not only are they helping us on the football field, they’re doing well in the classroom,” Jones said before a speaking engagement in Johnson City.

Tennessee’s new scholarship roster is embedded below. Click here if you can’t see the graphic or if you want to view the spreadsheet directly. Be advised the projection of 83 scholarship players is unofficial and subject to change. But there is likely one or possibly two more slots available for a veteran walk-on this summer.

You can also check out the updated depth chart (Gilliam and Swafford are no longer color-coded as walk-ons!) Also, check out the new “needs chart” for 2015. Gilliam’s addition to the scholarship rolls doesn’t impact that calculus, as this is his final year of eligibility.

SEC baseball tournament bracket update: What are the Vols’ scenarios for this weekend?

Tennessee lost to UNC Asheville last week at Lindsey Nelson Stadium (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — To make its first trip to the SEC baseball tournament since 2007, Tennessee needs to win two games this weekend against Florida or else keep an eye on what’s happening at Auburn. Or maybe Athens. And we’re not even going to mention College Station.

With three games left in conference play, the Vols (29-20, 11-16 SEC) are the 11th of 12 seeds in next week’s SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.

Tennessee has a half-game lead over 12th-seeded Georgia (10-16-1) and a one-game lead over Auburn (10-17), which would fail to make the tournament if it started today.

Georgia hosts 10th-seeded Kentucky this weekend, while Auburn takes on No. 6 seed LSU.

For the sake of simplicity, we’re viewing this as four teams (UK, UT, Georgia and Auburn) vying for three spots. (Texas A&M and Arkansas are both 13-14, but adding them to the mix would be insanely complicated and I’m not sure it would make a difference).

* UT sweeps Florida, 3-0. The Vols (14-16) are in.

* UT wins two of three from Florida. The Vols (13-17) are in.

* UT wins one of three. The Vols (12-18) are in unless both Auburn and Georgia win at least two games. (Except if they both go 3-0. Then Kentucky would be left out.)

* UT is swept by Florida. The Vols (11-19) are in if Georgia is swept OR Auburn is swept OR if both Kentucky and Auburn are swept.

From other perspectives:

* Kentucky clinches with one win over Georgia or one Auburn loss to LSU. The Wildcats are eliminated if they are swept AND Auburn wins all three games AND Tennessee wins at least one game.

* Auburn clinches with a sweep. They are eliminated if they are swept. At 2-1, Auburn gets in if Georgia loses at least two games OR if UGA loses at least one and Tennessee is swept OR if Kentucky is swept and Tennessee loses at least twice. At 1-2, Auburn can only get if Georgia is swept OR if Georgia wins at least two while Tennessee is swept.

* Georgia clinches with a sweep. With two wins, the Bulldogs will be in unless Auburn sweeps LSU AND Tennessee wins at least two. With one win, the scenarios are very complex. If the Bulldogs are swept, they get in only if Auburn is also swept.

The current standings:

1. Florida (East leader), 19-8

2. Ole Miss (West leader), 17-10

3. Mississippi State, 16-11

4. Vanderbilt, 16-11

5. South Carolina, 16-11

6. LSU, 14-11-1

7. Alabama, 14-12

8. Arkansas, 13-14

9. Texas A&M. 13-14

10. Kentucky, 12-15

11. Tennessee, 11-16

12. Georgia, 10-16-1

13. Auburn (currently not qualified), 10-17

14. Missouri (officially eliminated), 6-21

SINGLE ELIMINATION PORTION (loser is eliminated)

No. 6 LSU  vs. No. 11 Tennessee

No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 10 Kentucky

No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Texas A&M

No. 5 South Carolina vs. No. 12 Georgia


Alabama-Kentucky winner vs. No. 2 Ole Miss

USC-UGA winner vs. No. 4 Vanderbilt

Arkansas-TAMU winner vs. No. 1 Florida

LSU-UT winner vs. No. 3 Mississippi State

You can follow the rest of the bracket here (.pdf file).

If Tennessee makes the SEC tournament, then the questions will turn to the possibility of an NCAA regional appearance. But that’s for another blog.

The Vols host Morehead State on Tuesday night. If it’s not a must-win game, it’s at least a must-not-lose game. Bad mid-week losses are never good things for an NCAA bubble team, and the Vols already took one last week against UNC-Asheville.

Joshua Dobbs shares video of 60-yard pass hitting crossbar with a ping

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Viral videos showing incredible feats of athleticism usually end up being a guerrilla marketing campaign for a sports drink.

But I have to think this video of Joshua Dobbs hitting the cross bar from 60 yards out is legit. It even has a great “ping” sound.

But was it actually his first try? Or did this bit of Instagram magic require multiple takes? I’ll give Dobbs the benefit of the doubt.

Ja’Wuan James says Miami Dolphins’ pick fulfilled his wish

Ja’Wuan James at Tennessee’s pro day this spring (photos by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Miami Dolphins officials said several times on Friday that they had “targeted” Tennessee offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James for a long time.

The feeling was apparently mutual.

James said after his visit to Miami for a pre-draft interview, he knew he wanted to play for the Dolphins and he was overjoyed when the team selected him in the first round on Thursday.

“God definitely blessed me,” James said during a press conference in Miami. “He heard my prayers and answered them…I wanted to be a part of this team.”

James said he felt comfortable with the coaches, executives and players on the Dolphins — including former teammate Dallas Thomas, who he called one of his best friends.

James sidestepped questions about the Dolphins’ locker room drama from a year ago, when offensive lineman Richie Incognito was suspended for allegedly bullying teammate Jonathan Martin.

“That’s last year,” James said. “I’m comfortable with this environment.”

James said he based that on his “interaction with everyone on the coaching staff and everyone in the organization. Talking to some of the guys on the team, I just felt it was the right atmosphere.”

James also shrugged off a tweet from new teammate Mike Pouncey that seemed to make light of last year’s bullying scandal.

“It’s all part of the process of being a rookie,” James said.

James was a leader at Tennessee and one of the most media-friendly players at the team. He won his first press conference at Miami by displaying a similar charisma.

Asked if he expected to be a starter on opening day, he had a reply ready.

“I don’t expect anything,” he said. “I expect to come in and work hard. That’s how I was raised my whole life. You’ve got to earn what you’re given.”

Here’s one not-so-optimistic projection for Vols in 2014

The Vols during a practice at Neyland Stadium this spring (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — In 2013, most preseason predictions for Tennessee seemed to fall between 5-7 and 7-5. (I split the difference and picked 6-6).

With an equally tough schedule and plenty of roster turnover in 2014, I expect most picks this summer will fall in that same range.

However, there’s already an outlier, and it’s not a good one for fans trying to be optimistic in their outlook for 2014.

Football Outsiders post-spring projections have the Vols going 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the SEC. (The full post is available only for ESPN subscribers).

The complete formula for the projections is proprietary, but here’s how Football Outsiders describes it in the post: “Factors include five-year program ratings, returning starters, recruiting success and quarterback reliance — statistical indicators of teams that may take a step forward or step back next season.”

The projection model expects solid seasons from South Carolina, Georgia and — perhaps surprisingly — Missouri in the SEC East. Less surprisingly, the model has Alabama, LSU and Auburn atop the West.

I’m much more optimistic about Florida having a bounce-back year than the Football Outsiders model seems to be. And I’m probably less convinced that Missouri will be a major factor in the SEC East.

Football Outsiders has some very cool metrics for both NFL and college football that are worth checking out.

Peyton Manning, the 1998 NFL draft and the ‘science’ of picking a winner (video)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — With the benefit of 16 years of hindsight, it’s easy to forget the debate in 1998 about whether Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf would be the first overall pick in the NFL draft.

Peyton Manning (AP photo)

The Indianapolis Colts wisely chose Manning, who became perhaps the greatest quarterback in the history of the game.  Leaf struggled with injuries and other issues in his four-year career and is generally regarded as the one of the biggest busts in NFL history.

The New York Times revisited that decision in the 12-minute video embedded above. It’s worth watching.

Here’s some video from Manning’s visit to Knoxville last summer.

What if the SEC baseball tournament started today? (updated bracket projections)

The SEC baseball tournament in Hoover, Ala. (AP photo by Dave Martin)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee’s series-clinching victory over Kentucky on Sunday was doubly meaningful for the Vols.

At 10-14, Tennessee now wins the tiebreaker over Kentucky and climbs to the No. 10 seed in the SEC tournament. The recent struggles of Auburn, Missouri could give the top 12 teams a bit of a buffer in the league standings.

I think 11 of the league’s 14 teams have NCAA-quality resumes. (Everyone except Georgia, Auburn and MIssouri.) That could create a lack of suspense in Hoover, Ala., particularly if the bubble team(s) are bounced quickly in the single-elimination portion.

The Vols are in decent shape, with an RPI ranked 30th in the nation. (A No. 27 ranking in the Sagarin ratings validates that nice RPI number.)

Tennessee has six SEC games remaining — three at Mississippi State and then three at home against Florida — and two non-conference games. If the Vols go 4-4 in that stretch, their projected RPI ranking would be 37th. While that would probably be enough, although UT would prefer a bigger cushion.

Here’s how the SEC tournament bracket would look if the tournament began now:

1. Florida (East champ)

2. Ole Miss (West champ)

3. Mississippi State

4. Vanderbilt

5. LSU

6. South Carolina

7. Alabama

8. Texas A&M

9. Arkansas

10. Tennessee

11. Kentucky

12. Georgia

13. Auburn (not qualified)

14. Missouri (not qualified)

SINGLE ELIMINATION PORTION (loser is eliminated)

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Kentucky

No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 10 Tennessee

No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 Arkansas

No. 5 LSU vs. No. 12 Georgia


Alabama-UT winner vs. No. 2 Ole Miss

LSU-UGA winner vs. No. 4 Vanderbilt

TAMU-Arkansas winner vs. No. 1 Florida

USC-UK winner vs. No. 3 Mississippi State

You can follow the rest of the bracket here (.pdf file).

Butch Jones putting Pig Howard decision in hands of ‘player staff’

Alton “Pig” Howard (photo by Michael Patrick)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee coach Butch Jones seems to have put the future of receiver Alton “Pig” Howard squarely in the hands of his player committee.

During a caravan event Monday night in Atlanta, Jones suggest that the 13-man “player staff” would meet with Howard before making a final decision.

I’m told Howard has appeared before the player staff at least once before and was given some forceful feedback about his commitment to football. The group even referenced a few messages on his Twitter account that they didn’t feel reflected positively on him or the team.

Even so, Jones said Monday night that he “just” got off the phone with Howard, and he seemed far more open to his return than he did this spring.

“He will go before the 13-person player staff and they will meet with him and make a decision,” Jones said. “It’s an honor and privilege to play at UT.”

Howard started 10 games in 2013, catching a team-high 44 passes for 388 yards.