Pre-Spring Offseason Forecast: Tennessee

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With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Tennessee.

What’s changing

The better question may be ‘What isn’t changing?’ In fact, everything is changing with the announcement that running backs coach Jay Graham bolted from his alma mater for FSU. Everything is also changing from a schematic standpoint, too. Jones brings a winning tradition and proven developmental program from a player personnel standpoint. Both coordinators in Mike Bajakian and John Jancek followed Jones to Tennessee from Cincinnati, as did all but three Vols’ coaches. Willie Martinez, Zach Azzanni and Tommy Thigpen all bring SEC experience to Jones’ staff as the only three not to follow from Cincinnati. Tennessee’s historical pro-style offense could change more to a spread offense, and the SEC’s worst 3-4 defense will change back to a 4-3. Except for losing Graham every single change is for the better, because the program just kept spiraling out of control and furthering into mediocrity under Derek Dooley’s leadership. Hell, I liked Dooley, but he couldn’t get a team ready to play under any circumstances.

Position of concern

I know Tennessee had the worst defense in the league in 2012, and the quarterback is now gone, too. But the biggest area of need is at wide receiver. It’s almost a great thing that Tennessee will move to more of a spread-type scheme than last year’s pro-style, because receivers have a better opportunity for easier catches in space. Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera combined for 187 catches for 2,914 yards and 26 touchdowns, roughly 75 percent of all receiving production, and none of the four are returning. The five favorites to emerge are Vincent Dallas, Jacob Carter, Jason Croom, Drae Bowles and Pig Howard, and they combined for just 20 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns. Zach Azzanni has his work cut out for him.

Emerging spring player prediction

The one player still waiting to break out of his averageness is running back Marlin Lane. We started to see flashes toward the end of 2012, but Lane never seemed to thrive in Dooley’s offense. However, Lane could be the perfect back for Jones’ offense. He’s combined for just 938 yards and four touchdowns in two years. It’s time for Lane to break out of his shell this spring, even with the loss of Jay Graham.

Three signees to be excited about

1. MarQuez North, WR: Losing Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson is tough, but Butch Jones signing North in just his first class will have massive ramifications in the future. North is a special player, and he’ll be an impact player in 2013.

2. Jason Carr, DE: Tennessee needs impact defensive linemen and create more in-roads into Memphis for recruiting purposes. They nabbed both when they signed Carr. The standout should play immediately for the Vols.

3. Josh Dobbs, QB: We talk so much about Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman, but Dobbs is the QB of the future for Butch Jones. He doesn’t start until the summer, but he could end up starting midway through his freshman season. Can’t say I didn’t say so when that happens.

Position Battle

The offense was the only reason the Vols were able to win five games last year. Top passer Tyler Bray is now gone, and Jones has to two quarterbacks to work with in Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman. Worley has more experience and is a more polished passer, while Peterman has zero experience and can move around in and out of the pocket better. And Peterman may be the better quarterback for the system. Either way, two quarterbacks competing can only make the emerging starter better when the smoke clears. This is one of the more insightful spring position battles of 2013.

Previous Offseason Forecasts:

Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

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