Tennessee exits spring practice at an interesting juncture.

The Vols did enough in coach Butch Jones’ first two seasons to pique the interest of the rest of the SEC, if not the rest of the country. Some media members are even picking UT to win the wide-open SEC East in 2015.

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Then there’s the lack of depth and/or experience at certain positions (offensive line, quarterback, running back, linebacker).

Much like Arkansas and Mississippi State in the SEC West, the Vols’ starting 11 on both sides of the ball, when healthy, should be able to compete with any team in the SEC. But Tennessee exits spring with some concerns about surviving an entire SEC season without having to rely on players who in many cases aren’t quite ready to win a championship.

What will Jones and Team 119 have in store for Vols fans this fall? We’ll have to wait to find out. But we can examine what the program accomplished this spring.


Addressed?: It seems like it, but it’s an ongoing process

Dobbs didn’t produce the type of awe-inspiring spring game performance of a Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) or Brandon Allen (Arkansas). He’s still at his best in live situations when he can leverage the threat of his athleticism, and his on-field reads and consistency haven’t yet caught up to his natural intelligence.

The most important thing, other than the fact that Dobbs exited spring practice healthy, was that the team got to spend all 15 practices pouring into him, both from a technique standpoint and in terms of leadership.

This is Dobbs’ team now, and from that perspective, he’s taken a major leap forward. The fact that he’s been so closely aligned with new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord — even sitting in on DeBord’s job interview — bodes well for Tennessee. By all accounts, he’s a hard-working, coachable player.

But those expecting him to ascend to All-SEC caliber automatically in 2015 need a reality check. Dobbs still has plenty of room for growth as a passer.

But hey, his performance in Saturday’s halftime quarterback skills competition was impressive, especially when Quentin Dormady put a little pressure on him.


Addressed?: Yes, to whomever was available

Several offensive linemen and a few receivers missed a portion of, or all of, spring practice. Running back Jalen Hurd was limited to non-contact drills, for example. Receiver Marquez North didn’t see much of the field.

Tennessee did what it could to get everyone reps in whatever capacity possible, be it live-contact drills or walk-throughs. But it wasn’t an ideal situation.

Conversely, DeBord isn’t changing the calls from last year’s offense, and continuity is one of the biggest positives of the hiring (along with his proficiency teaching offensive line play). From an outsider’s perspective, the team’s biggest general priority — other than improving the aforementioned offensive line — may be ramping up the offensive tempo to an even higher degree, something DeBord preached all spring.

The team exits spring practice with some unforeseen concerns at receiver, as the group just has not played like what many expected to be the team’s second-best unit (behind defensive end/pass rusher). But that’s not really a product of learning DeBord’s system.


Addressed?: This one is kind of inherent, but injuries didn’t help

Two of the team’s biggest early enrollees missed part or all of spring practice (are you sensing a theme here?): DE Kyle Phillips and Darrin Kirkland Jr.

Beyond that, Quentin Dormady put himself in position to secure the backup quarterback job with a solid fall practice.

Alvin Kamara looks like an instant-impact player at running back, as everyone expected when the Vols landed the JUCO transfer.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact Jack Jones will make as a true freshman offensive tackle, but the coaches and players have gone out of their way to praise him at times.

It’s unfair to expect defensive tackle Shy Tuttle to have the kind of season that Derek Barnett did last year as a true freshman defensive end, but he’s settled into the team well and will play an important role in the middle of the Vols defense.


Addressed?: Yes, for the most part

Tennessee entered the spring with so many players either out or severely limited that it was difficult for it to get any worse.

Safety LaDarrell McNeil (hamstring) and cornerback Max Arnold (spotted on crutches Saturday) did not play in the spring game. Others who missed the spring game are too numerous to list. Jalen Hurd, Devaun Swafford, Pig Howard and Marquez North wore non-contact jerseys.

The good news? Jones wasn’t aware of any new injuries Saturday, and outside of McNeil and Arnold, the coach said every other injured player either is on schedule or ahead of schedule.

Injuries may be an issue for the Vols at some point during the 2015 season. They limited what Tennessee was able to accomplish during the 15 spring practices — at certain positions more than others. But in terms of injuries that could linger into the fall and prevent key players from being 100 percent for the season opener, it doesn’t appear there are any.

(As an aside, Von Pearson is now indefinitely suspended due to allegations of sexual assault, and while that’s not an injury, it could have a similar affect into the fall, potentially removing what could’ve been the team’s No. 1 receiver from the equation.)


Addressed?: Yes

During his first two years in Knoxville, I thought Jones set expectations a shade too high — and then he did just enough to meet them in both seasons. Making and winning a bowl game in ’14 was an important ceremonial step. The Vols have built momentum with every turn of the football calendar since dumping Derek Dooley.

There’s nothing to quibble about with the way Jones has handled expectations this spring. There’s been a clear two-pronged effort.

Internally (and explicitly so), Jones has stressed that the Vols haven’t accomplished anything of substance yet. He’s setting an internal standard on par with what Tennessee’s long-standing football tradition demands. Making a mediocre bowl game isn’t good enough.

Externally, Jones has tamped down media buzz about UT winning the SEC East and contending for a championship in ’15. Smart move. “Cautiously optimistic” may describe Jones’ feeling about Team 119. He realizes that the team is thin at some key positions, which is one of the reasons he couldn’t stage a true traditional split-squad spring game. The starting 11 on both sides is very competitive, but there’s still a lot of youth and inexperience in the team’s two- and three-deep.

Overall, expectations are for the Vols to improve on both sides of the ball, win between 8 and 10 games and slide up the SEC totem pole, creating legitimate national buzz for 2016. That’s very fair.