Vols' spring hopes eternal

Questions, curiosity and promise awaits Vols return to practice

Scenes from the first Spring practice

Spring is nature's time for rebirth and change.

It's no different for Tennessee's football team, which holds its first spring practice this afternoon.

And it would be hard to imagine much more change that faces Tennessee, which won the SEC East and finished 10-4 last season. The Vols will be replacing a veteran quarterback, installing a new offense and solidifying its front seven on defense. Four new offensive coaches will get started in earnest today, with the first of 14 practices leading up to the Orange and White Game on April 19.

Here are 10 storylines to keep an eye on between now and then:

1. New Coaches: The on-field installation of Dave Clawson's offense begins today, but exactly how much will change? Clawson is known for getting the ball to playmakers, and identifying those players will be a key part of spring drills. Of all the story lines, this one will be the most important. And the most scrutinized.

2. Quarterback Change: Jonathan Crompton is the early favorite to become UT's starting quarterback, but his position as heir apparent to Erik Ainge is a little more wide open with the departure of former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. Crompton has the most experience, but B.J. Coleman is a heady player with a great arm and Nick Stephens has plenty of velocity on his throws. You can bet the starter will be the player who grasps Clawson's offense the best.

3. Linebacker Shuffle: The Vols lose two proven players in middle linebacker Jerod Mayo and strongside linebacker Ryan Karl. Given John Chavis' track record of developing players at linebacker, though, finding solid replacements shouldn't be a huge concern. Ellix Wilson had six tackles in the Outback Bowl, and should be ready to take over the middle. Adam Myers-White has the inside track at Karl's old position, but watch converted safety Nevin McKenzie particularly because of the cover skills needed on the strong side.

4. Stronger Secondary: Heading into last fall, secondary was a major area of concern. Not so this year. Several first-year players - Dennis Rogan, DeAngelo Willingham, Brent Vinson and freshman All-American Eric Berry - grew up quickly. Jonathan Hefney is the only loss, but Demetrice Morley returns. His progress will be closely watched, but this unit as a whole should be a major strength for '08.

5. Crowded Backfield: New running backs coach Stan Drayton inherits a deep backfield with Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty and Lennon Creer. Mid-term enrollee Taurean Poole has created a buzz as well. Finding enough carries to go around was a problem last year, with Hardesty having the most legitimate gripe. Finding the right mix - and the right rotation - will be a priority.

6. Leadership: Finding new leaders is always a big part of spring practice, but this year's team has a huge void to fill with the loss of Ainge, Eric Young and Mayo. After a run of off-field issues, a new group of senior leaders has begun to emerge. Receiver Josh Briscoe, offensive lineman Ramon Foster and others have helped take the reins, but continued development during spring practice will be key.

7. Mr. Jones: After recovering from a hamstring injury, receiver Gerald Jones became a potent weapon late in the year, recording a touchdown catch against Kentucky and rushing twice for 39 yards against LSU in the SEC championship game and scoring a touchdown against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. Jones certainly appears to be the kind of playmaker Clawson wants to get the ball to, but how will his role change in this year's offense?

8. Punter Placement: Dustin Colquitt is among the nation's best punters, but he'll be serving a five-game suspension to start the season. That leaves Chad Cunningham as his likely replacement for a key stretch that includes trips to UCLA and Auburn, as well as a visit from Florida. The Vols can afford fewer yards per punt. What they can't afford is a block that results from not getting the ball away quick enough, something Cunningham has struggled with.

9. Tight Ends: Tennessee is stocked with talent, but short on experience. Chris Brown will be missed chiefly because of his versatility. Jeff Cottam and Luke Stocker look to step forward in the rotation, as does David Holbert. Still, it's unclear whether tight end will remain the hybrid, multi-purpose position it was last year under Cutcliffe.

10. Tackles and Ends: Defensive tackle was a hot topic last year, but Dan Williams and Demonte' Bolden both proved they can perform at the SEC level. Now the question becomes depth behind them. Walter Fisher, Chase Nelson and Victor Thomas have plenty to prove. The Vols also lose starters Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds at end, leaving the door wide open for rising senior Robert Ayers (assuming he doesn't rotate in to the tackle spot) and dynamic players like Ben Martin, Chris Donald and Chris Walker.

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

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Comments » 201

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Point # 10 will be revisited several times. "Both proved they can perform at the SEC level"?

We performed down to 11th out of 12 positions in the final SEC rankings.

Believe this defense needs to be as important as who's playing QB or punting. Lordy, we'll see.

wvuvolfan writes:

i don't think colquitt will be punting or kicking after 5 games, unless we have a total breakdown. i believe Britton is done as a VOL.

IdahoVol writes:

Lots of questions, but if these new coaches are as good as advertised, I think we are in for a good year. My biggest concern is the punting situation. I would expect Colquitt will be back for the end of the season - he needs it to help his stock for the NFL. But we have all seen how punting can make a difference in a game, and we don't seem to have anything there. We have 6 months to figure this out.

TommyJack writes:

PD: Don't be such a doubting Nabob. Stay the course.

BigVolinCarolina writes:

I sure hope we spend time learning to tackle and working on special teams.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

TJ, they made their course very clear to me on "D" last fall. Several times.

I don't need or want to see it again. I've had enuf "whoops, there they go again". Or opposing QBs having time to watch "Oprah". LOL

orangeblood writes:

What the heck is going on with Brandon Warren??? When's he going to be eligible. Someone from the News Sentinel Staff please comment.

gohawks1 writes:

Ah, yes, Spring cometh. Let's roll.

debaser11 writes:

I hope we score lots of points,,,
... see item no. 10 above!

CoverOrange writes:

8a: kickoff depth without Colquitt will be a concern once again. Can Lincoln get it past the 15 yard line?

ect1983 writes:

We are going to fight like heck to get better. Stay the course. Dang.

DenmarkVol_aka_Mbumburu writes:

I don't know about you guys but, in the midst of the current Vols' hoops road to glory, reading this is like picking up a drink at a party and finding a soggy cigarette butt in your mouth.

Show me in September, when this Vol fan will have even lower expectations than normal.

GIVEHIMSIX writes:

KNS, i know we are in the midst of the best basketball season in UT history. still, im disappointed in the lack of pre-spring coverage you have given. with so many story lines and question marks this year, i was expecting this spring to be one of the most anticipated in recent memory. pearl and co. are great, but it's the first day of the 2009 football season. can we get a little more info?

volfan73120#211815 writes:

That is the story of your life mbumburu.

andy112382#209793 writes:

kdt0725 - if Chris Donald can be as explosive at DE as he was at LB, than it is one of the smartest moves in recent memory given the need on the DL versus at LB where we have depth to spare.

Wonder how many people bashed on the idea of moving Jason Witten from DE to TE....I can just hear it now 'TE??? He is a DE, we need DEs! We don't even use the TE!'......don't have too much to complain about that move nowadays!

I think the coaches know a bit more than we do, hench why they get paid to do this stuff for a living and we are on here bickering about it.

GO VOLS!!!

orangeblood writes:

Can't wait to hear about warren in the summer. AS for crompton. Someone i know worked out with him recently and said he has put on about 20 pounds of pure muscle, has shaved his head, and has a full beard.......no how badASS is that?!?! the foil of tim tebow.

eb502us#225637 writes:

I'm SO looking forward to a new offense under Clawson. My vocal chords still need a rest after having to put up with Cutcliffe the last few years.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Thanks Gen Fritter for explaining it so succinctly. The skies will clear as fearless leader commands the fight "like heck" (tks ect 1983) on the path to accept the Sears Trophy.

Just saw two tankers full of orange koolaid at the lakeside market. One driver said something about getting on over to Gen Fritters place. Said they had to fill a new 8,000 gallon tank. Must be for ride-alongs.

Punting! Pshaw. You have 4 tries to make ten yds. Don't need no punter. Don't you give up that ball!

Bring it on. You know we're ready.

chipper10 writes:

Sears Trophy? It must be spring where hope springs eternal. Doesn't matter how many five star players we have at positions. Simply put: tackle well, take care of the ball, run the ball, stop the run. That is all they need to practice this spring.

ThurmondEppy writes:

General Fritter and company, you need to find a new comedy routine. I'm not hating.... the "ironic enthusiasm" was cute at first, but now it's just old.

Even Seinfeld would get booed after telling the same jokes over and over.

GreerVol22 writes:

Surely, somwhere in ET, there is a 5 foot nothin' soccer player/mulch spreader named Pedro that can kick the holy phooey out of the pigskin.

And be careful Mr. Drew Edwards. This article was a little too upbeat for KNS standards. You may find yourself working in middle TN later on if you keep it up.

vol88 writes:

New season, new players, new coaches...let's get behind these guys the same way we're behind the b'ball team.

(Who would've ever thought anyone would ever say that?)

Volalumnus writes:

Say what you want about the Adams article and "The Response" , but I haven't heard of any trouble since then.
The article did its job, put heat on the coaches and the program, and when they have the heat on them, well, its amazing that it gets 180 degrees different results.

GreerVol22 writes:

tread lightly vol88, talk like that can have you banned. Use phrases like "reserved optimism" and "reluctant support"...you'll last longer.

GerryOP writes:

Volalumnus, interesting observation.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

How would ol' TDTN have looked out upon the optimism (guarded) of another spring? Helments clashing, buttercups opening, turkeys walking to the creek, turkeys typing and all hoping.

But what thoughts lurk down deep in the human soul? What do we really expect, when you get to where the rubber meets the road?

leedsvol2007 writes:

We'll see how it plays out but there is cause for optimism for the coming season.

Its much like 98 when we lost Leonard Little, Peyton Manning, Terry Fair et.al..

QB is obviously a question mark but having seen Crompton in limited playing time he appears able to step up.

We will be better at running back and wide receiver and a very good offensive line returns.

On defense we have questions up front and with the loss of Jerrod Mayo to the NFL. The secondary should be outstanding.

Our return game should be better with Rogan.

Colquitt leaves a big early hole. We saw how badly we were hurt with poor directional punting and kickoffs against Florida and Cal last season when Colquitt was nursing his leg injury.

If there are answers to the questions 2008 could be special.

orangebloodgmc writes:

Yes, pdhuff, I'm less concerned about qb and punter than the front 7 on D. They didn't mention Langley but I believe he is going to contribute as much or more than Chase Nelson and Victor Thomas. I agree with Greer on finding that strong-leg kicker maybe off a soccer field, and most of all, agree with kdt ... I was uneasy about moving Chris Walker to DE, but putting Chris Donald there??? I believe he was the #1 inside lb prospect in the nation. Seems like it would be a fine thing to groom him toward being #1 actual linebacker, would it not?

orangebloodgmc writes:

And this was a pretty good article ... so I knew Adams did not write it.

murrayvol writes:

pdhuff: You know full well what many amongst us are thinking. Infrequently and not very deep.

GerryOP writes:

Some see the glass as half full, others see the glass as half empty. And, there are other folks who ask "What glass?"

HotlantaVol writes:

Regardless of the sarcasm-dripping comments above, I am excited about this season coming up. Much more excited than when Sanders took over the offense. leedsvol is right. It is a lot like '98 when we lost a lot of good players and expectations were low. Tennessee always plays better when they are surrounded by doubters. So, please, keep doubting.

Oh, and Cromton will never be a true bad@$$ until he gets a few jailhouse tats like all of his teammates. I suggest LOVE/HATE across the knuckles.

HotlantaVol writes:

CromPton. Sorry.

AlpharettaVol writes:

Terrific feature story on CBP in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Here is the link:
http://www.ajc.com/sports/content/spo...

AlpharettaVol writes:

Aparently this site won't show the entire link. If you want to see the Bruce Pearl story, go to ajc.com and do a search for Steve Hummer, who wrote the story for this morning's edition of the AJC.

jimr07 writes:

HotlantaVol--loved your post. some of these guys cannot pass up the opportunity to bash fulmer. It is amazing how much more they know about coaching than the coaching staff. I am not happy over the past few years either, but i support the team win, lose or draw. I think they are all Majors believers and still not over what Johnny did to himself. sad. truly sad to have that much hate.

waterskier3#226480 writes:

come on we're now a BB school where football is second.. who cares about spring practice????? do we really believe we have a shot at anything other thant the outback bowl with our schedule and our defense? we haven't been able to run the ball in 3 years and i don't see that changing so what will we do on 3rd and 2?????? that yardage has cost us so many games and mo during the past 3 season.....can't run can't win championships....

i'm excited about the potential of winning the sec tourney and the ladies winning it all... then we can come back and talk about the pretenders....

really i love UT football but they have made me so mad and dissappointed since 2000 that i'm having a hard time being positive...

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Used to be in lockstep myself. Kinda like the drunk who thought he was dancing still someone stepped on his hand.

We'll see.

chefjorge writes:

Doesn't Dustin Colquitt play in the NFL and isn't Britton his younger, stupider brother whose services we will be without for five games?

stinky_pinky writes:

why is this a headliner? who cares....

Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce

vol4jesus writes:

alpharettavol this is a futbol article not bball sir. stick to rules of posting to topic. kindly poster police....just post that on bball site/article. Do you hear the sound of pads hitting/popping? No, not yet allowed,but soon.

jimr07 writes:

waterskier3--judging by some of your past posts, what would have made you happy? i am not either but tennessee is not now and never has been as elite a team as you think. only during the Neyland years were we thought of as elite. i would like to see a top ten finish every like southern cal, oklahoma, texas, and the usual suspects. Fulmer has done a very credible job,. you just will not admit it.

GerryOP writes:

jimr07, you point out an interesting distinction. I would assume that ALL (most?) of us support the football team -- win, lose, or draw. But, some of us chose not to support Phillip Fulmer. Some do not distinguish between the two. I do.

BOASoldier writes:

then don't post waterskier... the first snap of spring practice hasn't even taken place and you're already whining. It's ok to have concerns, but how bout waiting to see what this season brings before you start whining about it... how many people freaked after Peyton left and the 98 season began? How many people got all excited about how great we were going to be in 2005? fact is noone knows yet so quit whining

jhayes1911 writes:

chefjorge-You are correct! KNS is terrible! Out of my 7 years I spent in school and working, I never read the paper or watched the news!

jimr07 writes:

GerryOP--i respect your opinion as i hope you respect mine. i was trying to point out that we tennesseans are far more impressed with us than the rest of the country. when i moved to texas in 1970, i was bragging about our vols to the fake UT people. most people were not aware that we rank numeber 8 in all time wins. most of that great record was recorded under the General. And, there is always the butt monkeys. yes, you won the national championship, but.....you had a lot of luck. you did this but...........never had the respect of other people. i hope i do not make people mad saying this. but the national prestige, if there is any, came the late great general Neyland.

jimr07 writes:

BOASoldier---great post. unfortunately, it will not make a difference to the chief naysayer. he is going to be negative and regardless. i will bet you this, if we should wind up in a BCS game this year, he would be female doging that Fulmer called a bad game. mark my words.

GerryOP writes:

jimr07, I too live far from Knoxville and totally agree with your 10:19 post. Totally! And I wear my Orange with pride, regardless of the comments made!

I hope that someday, during my lifetime, that Tennessee football could return to the same level of glory and prestige that The General took us to.

jimr07 writes:

GerryOP--not to live in the past, but when you look at 38,39,40, no team in football has done what tennessee did those three years. Not even Bud Wilkingson at Oklahoma when the big 8 was called Oklahoma and the seven dwarks.

TommyJack writes:

JimR: No need to mark your words. It ain't gonna happen. And BTW, I don't see ole GerryOP as a loser/hater. The man just expresses some angst with the present HC. Doesn't mean he's not a Believer. How many times does this need to be pointed out for cryin out loud. sheesh.

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