Rank 2014 position groups: Tennessee
Defensive End: Derek Barnett became the first true freshman in school history to start at defensive end in a season opener. The former four-star prospect set the Tennessee freshman record for sacks (10) and tackles for loss (20.5), finishing top-5 in the SEC in both categories. Curt Maggitt saw a resurgence after missing all of 2013. The redshirt junior excelled as a DE/LB hybrid, leading the Vols with 11 sacks, while also recording 14 tackles for loss.
Linebacker: Before missing the final two games of his collegiate career to a suspension, A.J. Johnson was the best linebacker in the SEC. The senior was on pace to surpass his previous season-best tackling totals, ending with a team-high 101 through 12 games. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who spent the majority of his freshman season on special teams, saw a breakout season in 2014. The sophomore recorded 88 tackles, including 10 for loss.
Defensive Backs: Both Cameron Sutton and Justin Coleman enjoyed solid seasons at cornerback. The duo combined for seven interceptions, with Coleman’s four tying for third in the SEC. Sutton, who’s has started in each game since enrolling at UT in 2013, fared well in coverage against some of the SEC’s premier receivers. Freshman safety Todd Kelly Jr. made the most of his limited playing time. Despite serving as the backup to Brian Randolph, Kelly recorded three interceptions, the second-most among Vols defensive players.
Special Teams: Tennessee managed to keep its opponents out of the end zone on special teams. The Vols ranked No. 9 in punt return defense and No. 33 in kick return defense. Evan Berry emerged as the team’s best kick returner, averaging 29.5 yards per return, the second-highest average in the SEC. Sutton recorded the team’s first punt return touchdown since Cordarrelle Patterson in 2012. Freshman Aaron Medley went 19-of-25 on field goal attempts for a 76 percentage made. Matt Darr averaged 42.5 yards per punt and 269.1 punting yards per game on 76 attempts.
Quarterback: Tennessee saw a fluctuating output from the quarterback position. Justin Worley saw career numbers in his final season before suffering a shoulder injury. Joshua Dobbs gained national attention for his first three appearances of 2014, but was far less successful in his final two games. Dobbs was responsible for the Vols ending their bowl drought and deserves credit, despite a poor showing against Vanderbilt in Week 14. Also, both players faced constant pressure playing behind the worst offensive line in the SEC, which played a major factor in their less impressive performances.
Wide Receiver: Tennessee’s receiving corps had the most depth of any position. Despite losing four players to season-ending injuries, the Vols still have some of the conference’s top targets entering their bowl game on Jan. 2. Pig Howard enjoyed the best season of his career, leading with 589 yards on 52 catches. The speedy x-factor receiver strived in Mike Bajakian’s screen-heavy offense and exposed weak opposing coverage for big plays.
Running Back: Jalen Hurd was Tennessee’s best offensive player in 2014. However, the other Vols running backs left more to be desired. Tennessee ranked No. 100 overall in rushing yards, with the majority coming from the freshman’s team-best 777 yards. When Hurd battled injuries, the Vols saw little production from the running game, with each other tailback averaging less than four yards per carry on double-digit attempts.
Tight End: Like Barnett, Ethan Wolf became the first true freshman in school history to start in a season opener at his position. The Ohio native shared playing time with fellow freshman Daniel Helm, who will transfer this offseason. Former walk-on Alex Ellis — who received a scholarship from head coach Butch Jones on Monday — and senior Brendan Downs provided the team with the only two touchdown catches from the tight end position.
Offensive Line: This was, without a doubt, Tennessee’s worst position group in 2014. The Vols ranked No. 118 in sacks allowed and No. 124 in tackles for loss. Plain and simple, this group must improve for the offense to reach its full potential