Tennessee Volunteers: Five players to watch against Utah State
The Tennessee Volunteers look to bounce back from a disappointing 5-7 2013 season in their home opener against Utah State Sunday. As the Vols attempt to finally take the leap back to dominance, a week one win is the first step in the rebuilding process.
Here’s five key players Tennessee fans should watch against Utah State this weekend:
Justin Worley, QB
Quarterback is the most important position on the field. The Vols will live and die on the arm and health of Justin Worley. The senior was named the opening week starter for the second consecutive season. Despite injuries, Worley was the most productive starting quarterback for Tennessee last season. However, with a completely new offensive line lacking experience, Worley could see even more pressure from pass rushers this season. In contrast, a talented young receiving corps and running back tandem will likely benefit Worley’s progression if he is properly protected.
Jalen Hurd, RB
The most talked about prospect of Tennessee’s 2014 recruiting class, Hurd enters his freshman season as one of the most decorated high school players in the history of the Volunteer state. The former Beech High School standout was a 3-A state champion and Mr. Football award winner before injuring his shoulder during the opening game of his senior season. The blue chip prospect opted for season-ending surgery before enrolling early at UT this January. Hurd enters with extremely high expectations and will likely play a vital role in Tennessee’s offense, despite sharing carries with senior Marlin Lane. His debut will provide a glimpse into what many Vols fans expect to be a stellar career and will be one of the most anticipated of any player on Tennessee’s roster.
Marquez North, WR
Marquez North enters the 2014 season as Tennessee’s No. 1 wide receiver. As a true freshman, North was named to the Freshmen All-SEC team and the Freshmen All-American teams for Athlon Sports, 247 Sports and College Football News. North made the two biggest highlight catches for Tennessee last season: a touchdown to start a comeback that would ultimately force overtime against Georgia and a crucial first down that set up a game-winning field goal to upset South Carolina. As a sophomore, North enters with a year of experience to match his impressive raw skills. Playing alongside top JUCO transfer Von Pearson and five-star prospect Josh Malone will further benefit North’s progression as an elite SEC wide receiver.
Curt Maggitt, DE
Tennessee fans have anxiously awaited Curt Maggitt’s return. The former outside linebacker missed the entire 2013 season after suffering a torn ACL to end his sophomore campaign. Prior to his knee injury, Maggitt played through a turf toe injury and a shoulder stinger, which he originally suffered in high school. Vol fans hope to see a healthy season out of the former 4-star prospect, who brings much needed experience to a defensive line that returns zero starters. If healthy, Maggitt will be one of Tennessee’s top defensive starters in 2014.
A.J. Johnson, LB
A.J. Johnson has been one of the few bright spots for Tennessee’s defense throughout his collegiate career. Johnson enters 2014 with 324 career tackles, recording over 100 in each of the past two seasons. The senior will be the true leader of a young Tennessee defense and should have a stellar senior season to cap off a decorated career in Knoxville.