Tennessee begins one of the most anticipated spring practices in a long time today. With 10 new coaches and brand new schemes across the board, there's no shortage of questions about the 2009 football team. Here's five of the most important:
1. Who's throwing the ball?
The quarterback race got a lot more one-sided with the news that Nick Stephens will miss three to four weeks with a broken wrist. That opens the door for Jonathan Crompton to embrace the job with open arms and make it a lot tougher for Stephens to get back in the discussion.
Quarterback was UT's biggest problem last year, but Crompton, Stephens and B.J. Coleman will benefit from a new approach this season. We'll soon see how resilient they are, as well as how they fit in another re-tooled offense.
2. How much will the defense change?
Despite a 5-7 record, UT's defense finished tied for third in the nation in total defense. That group loses five starters, including two linebackers and its most productive defensive end. Add a new scheme and a new coordinator in Monte Kiffin, and the defense has plenty of questions to answer.
Still, Eric Berry remains, as do veterans Rico McCoy, Dennis Rogan, Demetrice Morley and Dan Williams. It's not entirely starting from scratch, but this could be a very different defense than it was last season.
3. Anybody seen a few tackles?
The last few years defensive tackle has been an issue. That's the case this spring, too, but there's an even bigger shortage of offensive tackles.
Chris Scott, who many think is better suited to play guard, has started 26 consecutive games and should be the choice at one spot. Meanwhile, William Brimfield, Aaron Douglas, Cody Pope and Dallas Thomas will all get a look. One will likely be a starter this fall. On defense, Montori Hughes, Donald Langley, Chase Nelson, Andre Mathis and Victor Thomas will battle for a starting spot.
4. Who's on the move?
Former tight ends Douglas (offensive tackle) and Brandon Warren (wide receiver) begin spring at new positions. Here's betting a few more Vols change addresses in the next six weeks. Gerald Williams starts at linebacker, but he could be better suited to defensive end.
Part of spring practice is making sure the right players are playing the right positions, but it's also a chance for contributors to become starters and bench warmers to become contributors. The Vols need players in both categories to step forward.
5. Will the players buy it?
Early accounts seem to indicate that Tennessee's players have bought into Lane Kiffin's approach. That's a positive first step - and a vital one if the Vols are going to have a productive spring. Players were skeptical of Dave Clawson's offense a year ago, which was more of a two-year project than many realized early on. UT's new offense under Kiffin and coordinator Jim Chaney is much less complicated and could be a welcome change for most. But change is coming to defense and special teams, too.
Across the board, Kiffin wants his players to believe and adopt some of the swagger he's shown in three months on the job. Rebuilding the confidence of a team that had almost none at the end of the season is going to be key.
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.