Tennessee Spring Practice Start Date: March 7
Orange and White Spring Game: April 12
The Tennessee Volunteers’ 2014 Spring football drills are well underway, and there’s an undeniable excitement on Rocky Top for the coming season.
Tennessee, a proud SEC program that has endured some lean years recently, is heading into its second season under coach Butch Jones. In his first season on the job, Jones fielded a somewhat competitive squad, but, for the third consecutive year, the Vols ultimately fell short of reaching a bowl game.
This past February Jones inked a large and highly rated recruiting class, with just over 30 players faxing in letters of intent – fourteen of which are early enrollees. The surplus of fresh faces on the practice field in Knoxville has created quite the buzz this spring, as the Vols look to make a splash in the SEC East race this fall.
Returning Player to Watch
AJ Johnson, Linebacker
One of the top linebackers in the SEC, Johnson is a true stalwart of the Tennessee defense. The 2013 all-conference selection has started in 34 of his 36 collegiate games, and in 2012 he led the league in tackles. With a large crop of inexperienced freshman on campus, Johnson will be one of the team’s key on-field leaders this spring. Of course, his ability to punish opposing ball carriers is another reason Vols fans will want to keep an eye on Johnson in this year’s Orange and White Game.
Incoming Player to Watch
Jalen Hurd, Running Back
With the influx of talent this spring, there are a number of names that could go here, but Hurd gets the nod. The 2014 U.S. Army-All American was rated as a five-star recruit by both Rivals and 247Sports, and possesses an excellent combination of size and speed. Hurd has been a lightning rod for attention at practices this spring, as he attempts to wrestle the starting job away from senior running back Marlin Lane.
Person Under Most Pressure to Succeed
Butch Jones, Head Coach
When you coach at a major SEC program and bring in a deep, talented recruiting class, there’s immediate pressure to win. After a thrilling home upset of South Carolina last fall, Jones will undoubtedly be feeling pressure to carry momentum into 2014. Whether or not the second-year head man will have his team contending in the SEC East remains to be seen, but anything less than a bowl berth will be considered a disappointment.
What to Watch for in the Game
Who Will Emerge as the Vols’ Starting Quarterback?
With newcomers Josh Malone and Von Pearson turning heads this spring, the Vols have significantly upgraded their receiving corps. The big question that remains is, who will get them the ball? Rising senior Justin Worley took the majority of snaps last fall, but sophomore Joshua Dobbs also saw plenty of action. Redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson and sophomore Nathan Peterman are also in the running to earn the starting job. This competition could very well continue on into fall camp.
Youth is the theme on the practice field this spring, as the Volunteers look ahead to the 2014 season with renewed optimism.