By now, the major stories of spring practice are old hat. Everyone knows Jonathan Crompton will take over for Erik Ainge at quarterback this fall.
Likewise, everyone knows that safeties Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley lead a secondary that could be among the best in Tennessee history.
And everyone knows, too, that the arrival of new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson brought with it the biggest change to UT’s offense in 15 years.
If you’re in Neyland Stadium on Saturday for the Orange and White Game (2:30 p.m. kickoff), you’ll already be looking for those things.
Here’s five more things — that while a little off the beaten path — will be key for Tennessee’s success this fall.
1. Stopwatch Ends: Robert Ayers earned most-improved honors on defense at end. Wes Brown is much improved as well, and Ben Martin has made strides. But perhaps the biggest difference between those three players and UTs starting ends from last year — Antonio Reynolds and Xavier Mitchell — is speed. Reynolds and Mitchell both posted 40-yard dash times during Pro Day that were more appropriate for tackles than ends. That’s not the case this year.
2. Clock Work: For a few plays, train your eyes to those fancy new LCD boards in the north and south end zones and watch the play clock. More importantly, watch how UT’s quarterbacks manage the game in regard to the clock. Clock management was an issue at times this spring, but it’s been vastly improved. Nick Stephens particularly had difficulties, but it’s an improved group from that respect.
3. Quick Kicks: Tennessee will miss punter Britton Colquitt (suspension) for the first five games of the season. They’ll miss him even more if Chad Cunningham continues to have a hard time getting the ball away. If it takes Cunningham longer than about 3 seconds to get the ball off his foot, that’s big-time trouble against the likes of Florida and Auburn. Cunningham has a good leg, but that doesn’t matter if the ball never leaves his foot.
4. Guarded Optimism: If you’ve never spent a few plays just watching the line of scrimmage, shame on you. To make up for it, aim your binoculars on the big guys up front. You might be a little surprised what you see. UT will shuffle players from one side of the line to the other during the course of the game, or even a series. It’s an old trick, but it’s one that could help Tennessee get favorable matchups and cut down on practice reps. Take a look and see if you notice today.
5. Don’t Lose Count: One of the biggest differences between Tennessee’s offense under Clawson will be the amount of formations and the spacing within those formations. Tennessee can go big, with two tight ends. It will go fast, with four or five receivers. It will use the fullback this season, too, provided that Kevin Cooper or Austin Johnson can prove their respective value over having a tight end on the field. As Clawson said Thursday, the only requirement is a quarterback and five linemen. That means every combination of the other five players is possible. Keep count, if you want, but be prepared to take off your shoes.
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.