Spring football primer: Tennessee
Spring game: April 16, 2 p.m. ET
Remember when the biggest question facing the Tennessee football program was how it would cope with the elevated expectations for the 2016 season?
A Title IX lawsuit against the university has raised some serious questions about the program, and that will continue to play out in the coming weeks and months.
On the field, though, the Volunteers have plenty about which to be excited.
While half the league has questions at quarterback, Tennessee returns one of the best and most experienced in the league in Joshua Dobbs.
The recruiting class was solid, and two players who could have left early for the NFL — LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and CB Cameron Sutton — decided to come back to school.
Seventeen starters return from a 9-4 team that reeled off six straight wins to finish last season. Perhaps no other team in the SEC faces fewer major (on-field) questions than Tennessee.
THREE BIG QUESTIONS
1. Can the Volunteers find some difference-makers at wide receiver?
First, the good news. Tennessee returns two of its three leading receivers in Josh Malone and Josh Smith. Reserves Preston Williams and Jauan Jennings are also back.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
- DE Jonathan Kongbo: He’s already turning heads in the weight room in Knoxville, and the nation’s top-rated JUCO recruit will look to do the same when spring practice gets underway. The Volunteers have plenty of talent in place on the defensive front, but he’ll be trying to force his way into the rotation.
- WR Jeff George: George, a JUCO transfer from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, stands 6-foot-5, plays a position of need and will be on hand for spring camp. He’ll get every chance to impress.
- CB Marquill Osborne: An early enrollee out of North Carolina, Osborne is projected to compete for a spot in the team’s nickel and dime packages.
OFFENSIVE STARTERS TO REPLACE
- LT Kyler Kerbyson
- WR Von Pearson
Kerbyson is a significant loss, but it is offset by the fact that the other four starters on the offensive line return.
Pearson led the team in receiving last fall with 38 receptions for 409 yards and three touchdowns, but the next seven leading receivers on the team all return. Jennings and Williams will compete for his spot in the lineup in the spring, but George and and handful of other newcomers will likely push them until the season opener.
DEFENSIVE STARTERS TO REPLACE
- DT Owen Williams
- SS LaDarrell McNeil
- FS Brian Randolph
Williams posted 35 tackles last fall, but Tennessee has the luxury of plugging in a former five-star recruit in Kahlil McKenzie. McKenzie (24 tackles and a sack) saw plenty of action as a reserve last season, and should fill in nicely.
TOP RETURNERS BY CATEGORY
Top returning passer: Joshua Dobbs (2,291 yards in 2015)
Top returning rusher: Jalen Hurd (1,288 yards)
Top returning receiver: Josh Malone (405 yards)
Top returning tackler: Jalen Reeves-Maybin (105)
Top returning pass rusher: Derek Barnett (10 sacks)
Top returning pass defender: Todd Kelly Jr. (3 INTs)
POSITION OF CONCERN: WIDE RECEIVER
With so few players missing from the 2015 squad, there really isn’t a position that has a critical need.