Spring practice looks awfully strange for the Tennessee Vols, a team widely-considered one of the Eastern Division favorites for 2015.
Coach Butch Jones hasn’t been able to see what this year’s team has to offer since injuries have depleted the roster and left only half of his projected starting lineup available to participate in full contact drills.
Add the fact almost a dozen players left the team after the bowl game for transfer reasons and the Vols are only a shell of what they’ll take the field with this fall.
When Jones recently discussed his team’s plethora of ailments, he did so in a serious manner, critiquing his program’s lack of depth as a primary concern.
“It’s a snapshot that we have not arrived,” he said. “We’re a long ways away from where we need to be from a competitive depth standpoint to really be able to compete at a high level and an elite level.”
Vols who have missed spring practice
- Derek Barnett, DE
- Marcus Jackson, OG
- Danny O’Brien, DT
- Jason Croom, WR
- Kyle Phillips, DE
- Curt Maggitt, LB/DE
- Jakob Johnson, LB
- Darrin Kirkland, LB
- Alex Ellis, TE
Like most coaches, Jones continues to stress the importance of every rep as it relates to skill development.
“How do you progress? You get repetitions in the spring,” Jones said according to The Times Free Press. “We don’t have that luxury, so every rep is critical. Every rep has to be a winning rep. Every rep has to be a quality rep.”
In addition to the eight players who have missed all of spring ball, there are numerous others who have been limited by day-to-day injuries including running back Jalen Hurd, wideout Marquez North and linebacker Dillon Bates — all projected starters.
JUCO transfer Alvin Kamara is Tennessee’s only available scholarship ballcarrier at full strength and along the defensive front, the Vols have just five players healthy enough to practice.
The lack of bodies has forced Jones to reconfigure Tennessee’s practice schedule, choosing to work Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays. Mental reps has been a big part of the injured players’ daily routine according to the coaching staff.
If there’s one player Jones doesn’t have to worry about being ready for fall it’s quarterback Joshua Dobbs, arguably Tennessee’s most important starter as the “CEO of the offense” as the Vols like to put it.
Dobbs worked closely with first-year OC Mike DeBord during the first three sessions of practice last week and looked consistent from the pocket. That’s one of the areas Tennessee wants to see most out of the junior, an ability to make the routine play.
For now, multi-year starters Brian Randolph and Cam Sutton are leading the charge defensively on the faux “able-to-practice” list. All jokes aside, these two provide stability at one of Tennessee’s strongest position groups heading into next season.
Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, Tennessee’s feared pass rushing pair who combined for 21 sacks last fall, will miss spring ball altogether.