Tag Archives: 2014 preview

Tennessee football position preview: Specialist spots have vacancies after Michael Palardy’s departure

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The ninth in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in March.

Michael Palardy hugs coach Butch Jones after Tennessee’s win against South Carolina (KNS photo by Adam Lau).

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeMichael Palardy handled punts, kickoffs and field goals for the Vols in 2013, and his departure leaves no clear successor.

Incoming freshman Aaron Medley will have every opportunity to win the kicking job. He’s a well-regarded prospect, although projecting kickers from high school to college is much harder than it seems.

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Medley could face competition from veteran walk-on Derrick Brodus and another local product, George Bullock, whose career has never gotten on track after an injury as a freshman.

As for the punter spot, Matt Darr has the most experience, but a couple of walk-ons could challenge him.

Reliable snapper J.R. Carr has graduated, but Matt Giampapa has waited his turn after transferring from Michigan State, where he snapped in 2011.

A note on this series: As National Signing Day approaches, we reviewed each of Tennessee’s positions with an eye toward spring football in 2014. Click on the links for previews of the offensive linerunning backsreceiversquarterbackstight endsdefensive linelinebackers and defensive backs. Now that the previews are finished, it’s time to go back and adjust the spreadsheets to add new commitments and walk-ons. Then we’ll produce a master roster and speculative depth chart for the whole team. Once spring football gets underway, we’ll keep the chart updated so it remains as close to the real depth chart as possible. 

Tennessee football position preview: Defensive backs will face fresh competition for jobs

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The eighth in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in March.

Justin Coleman warms up before the Kentucky game (photos by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee is returning all of its starters and more than 90 percent of its snaps at defensive back in 2014, which might normally be construed as good news.

But as the Vols’ defense has struggled at times over the last two years, the defensive backs have taken a heavy load of the blame.

While not all that criticism was fair, Tennessee’s lack of speed and depth were factors at times in 2013. That should ensure that no one’s job is safe in 2014.

Well, almost no one.

Cameron Sutton, who played a team-high 746 snaps on defense as a true freshman in 2013, can probably be safely penciled in as one of the cornerbacks.

Justin Coleman could be an option to shift to nickel if the Vols’ can find another Sutton waiting to blossom among their crop of new players.

Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil could also face added competition. At the very least, all the starters should have backups that coaches feel more comfortable giving playing time.

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Tennessee football position preview: Linebackers will be helped by return of Curt Maggitt, A.J. Johnson

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The seventh in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in March.

A.J. Johnson talks to reporters after the Kentucky game (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee A.J. Johnson‘s decision to return for his senior season in 2014 will give Tennessee two experienced leaders in the middle of the defense.

Curt Maggitt is back after missing all of 2013 as he recovered from ACL surgery.

Barring a huge surprise, Johnson and Maggitt will start. About two-thirds of the time, when UT is in nickel, there won’t be any need for a third linebacker. When the Vols are in a 4-3 set, there will be plenty of options to fill out the rotation.

Dontavis Sapp and converted safety Brent Brewer are the biggest losses from 2013. Four other longtime reserves are also moving on.

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Tennessee football position preview: Defensive line will be deep, but very inexperienced

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The sixth in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in March.

Jordan Williams will be the most experienced returning player on the defensive line (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee is losing six seniors who accounted for roughly 70 percent of the team’s snaps on its defensive line.

Some of the team’s most visible leaders are included among that group.

But while the outlook for 2014 is challenging, it’s not entirely hopeless. A large crop of newcomers will be pushed to compete for playing time immediately. Just as important, a group of inexperienced returning players will be asked to seize a fresh opportunity for playing time.

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Among the departing players, Daniel Hood and Daniel McCullers might be among the most difficult to immediately replace. Big tackles usually don’t just arrive on campus. They are grown and develop over time. 

Jacques Smith, Corey Miller and Marlon Walls also capped their careers with solid senior seasons in 2013.

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Tennessee football position preview: Vols will have more options at tight end in 2014

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The fifth in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in March.

Tight end Brendan Downs (KNS photo by Adam Brimer)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — By the end of the season, Tennessee’s second-string tight end was a recently converted quarterback.

That former quarterback, walk-on Joe Stocstill, was one of the pleasant surprises of 2013. Even so, coaches have no desire to repeat the scenario in 2014.

Two highly regarded freshman tight ends will enroll next week, which should give offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian some more flexibility this spring.

Everyone on the current roster except for Joseph Ayres will be back in 2014. Ayres suffered a career-ending ACL injury early in the year. He could have been a valuable reserve if he had stayed healthy.

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Tennessee football position preview: Quarterback battle is wide open

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The fourth in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in three months.

Tennessee quarterbacks in practice (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee used three of its four quarterbacks this year, so perhaps it’s predictable that the one quarterback who didn’t play is the fan favorite to win the job in 2014.

Redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson does, in fact, have a strong chance of earning the No. 1 spot, but the race should be every bit as wide open as it was over the summer.

Justin Worley, who will be a senior, had two solid games in October when the Vols were playing their best. Joshua Dobbs got valuable experience after Worley was hurt. Nathan Peterman will have to overcome a rough performance at Florida.

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Tennessee football position preview: Receivers will face competition from new faces

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The third in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in three months.

Receivers coach Zach Azzanni (right) talks to offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian during practice. (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeMarquez North emerged as a big-play threat in his freshman season with the Vols.

In an offense that struggled to throw downfield, he was sometimes the only big-play threat.

The good news is that North was still raw for much of his debut season and he should improve after a year of coaching.

Alton “Pig” Howard should hold down the slot position if he stays focused on off-the-field responsibilities. Coaches thought he turned a corner in maturity in the 2013 season, but they still have some lingering concerns about his ability to lead by example.

Jason Croom and Josh Smith shared the third receiver spot, although Croom began to pull away as the season progressed. I’m told there are no plans to move Croom to tight end, where he had worked some earlier in his career.

Only two players are leaving (see below). Vincent Dallas departed mid-season, while Josh Harris was the most surprisingly of the three players who were given their release earlier this month.

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Dallas had bounced between receiver and defensive back during his career. Harris was only a freshman, but his best chance to make an impact may have already come and gone during 2013.

There are reinforcements coming.

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Tennessee football position preview: Running backs will lean on Marlin Lane, Jalen Hurd

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The second in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in three months.

Rajion Neal celebrates with fans after the Vols beat Kentucky earlier this month (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — It’s been nearly a decade since Tennessee had more rushing yards than the Vols did in 2013.

While that distinction may speak to the lack of a passing game in this year’s offense, it also speaks to the strength of the Vols’ experienced offensive line and running back duo.

The line will be gone in 2014, but veteran running back Marlin Lane will return. Instead of longtime partner Rajion Neal, Lane will likely be paired with true freshman Jalen Hurd, a five-star prospect who is expected to play an immediate role in the offense.

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Neal is the big loss off the 2013 roster. Reserve Tom Smith also parted ways with the program after the semester.

Smith did well in garbage time roles in 2013, but never threatened for meaningful playing time. Alden Hill seems likely to be in the same role and he must cement his value on special teams in order to be a factor moving forward.

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Tennessee football position preview: Offensive line starting anew, but Marcus Jackson could help ease transition

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The first in a series of position-by-position reviews of the Tennessee football team with an eye toward the start of spring practice in three months.

Antonio “Tiny” Richardson opted to leave early for the NFL (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — It’s appropriate to begin our series of offseason previews with the offensive line. Perhaps no other position will have a bigger impact on the Vols’ success or failure in 2014.

In 2013, the Vols not only had five experienced starters, but they had five players who had worked together as a unit for at least two years.

The Vols are losing all five starters, who accounted for roughly 92 percent of all snaps taken this year. The potential replacements are green.

The offense might not have been as prolific as hoped, but the line helped power a running game that kept UT afloat when other options failed. At least three of the linemen will be in the NFL next year.

The line was also remarkably durable. Ja’Wuan James set records for longevity. None of this teammates missed any significant time this year.

As you can see from the chart below, the Vols are replacing a lot of starts and a lot of combined experience.

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