This year is an exciting one for Tennessee Volunteers football fans.

Butch Jones has guided this team back to the cusp of contention, and the team could be ready to compete for an SEC East title after a long slump.

Hope springs eternal.

The 15 spring practice sessions allowed by NCAA rules are supposed to be a time to develop young talent, install new offenses or defenses and set the foundation for the fall. But a rash of injuries should make it a less than ideal few months for the Vols.

Just check out the list of players not expected to participate due to injury:

DE Derek Barnett
WR Jason Croom
DT Danny O’Brien
DE Kyle Phillips
LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.

And the list of players who should be limited:

TE Alex Ellis (could miss spring practice completely)
WR Marquez North
RB Jalen Hurd
DE Corey Vereen
DL Charles Mosley
LB Dillon Bates
CB Rashaan Gaulden
OL Chance Hall

Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to Jones: “This is gonna be the most challenging offseason in terms of spring football that we’ve ever had, because of the inordinate amount of injuries and surgeries and guys coming back,” Jones said, according to 247Sports. “We’re gonna have to be … creative. We’re gonna have to look at everything and figure out the best way to do what we need to do.

“The positive thing is those [injured] guys will be available in June and July. But it concerns me because, well, how do you get better? You get better by playing football. A lot of these individuals won’t be able to participate.

“Where they can improve is from the mental aspect, from the mental approach. Sometimes you learn more from coaching others, so they’ll be out there coaching for us this spring. But, yes, it is a concern in terms of the overall development of our football team.”

Depending on who recovers, and who gets hurt in the practices that precede it, the annual Orange and White Game on April 25 could seem, well, very different from what you’d normally call a “game.”

“I think about that every day, and it’s gonna be a challenge,” Jones said. “It may end up being a practice coupled with some scrimmage and some practice and a lot of individual competitions. We’re looking at lots of different things.”