Five big things for Tennessee football before the start of practice.
Arms race is on: Matt Simms will open as the favorite to win Tennessee's starting quarterback job, and he'll have the first-team reps to prove it.
But that doesn't mean Tyler Bray can't make it interesting, and Vols coach Derek Dooley doesn't really have a choice but to make sure both quarterbacks are ready to contribute given the shallow depth chart. With only fellow freshman Nash Nance really around to push those guys, it's clearly a two-man race to take over for Jonathan Crompton - and a solid spring has given Simms a head start.
Hard outside; inside TBD: The Vols are all set on the edge, and defensive line coach Chuck Smith wouldn't trade his group of ends for many in the country.
Once UT gets past its starting combination at tackle though, it might consider some deals there. The return of Marlon Walls to pair with Montori Hughes is a boost to the middle of the Vols defensive line, but the players behind them are still an unknown quantity - and uncertainty about John Brown's eligibility only highlights the matter.
Kicking it: A couple of seniors currently hold down the roles as specialists in the kicking game, though both could feel the heat from heralded true freshman.
Punter Chad Cunningham didn't have quite the season UT expected a year ago, and he might be pushed by Matt Darr, the top-ranked punter in the nation and a summertime addition to the Vols. The same is true for kicker Daniel Lincoln, who could have a real battle on his hands with Michael Palardy now on campus. Considering the issues UT dealt with on special teams a year ago, those often overlooked positions could play pivotal roles this fall.
Keep it clean: Dooley wants and needs a physical team. He also needs a healthy one.
So with roster numbers down, the first-year coach might be more cautious than normal to ensure the Vols make it through camp with enough live action - but not so much that they start the season covered in bruises. Dooley outlined part of his plans on Tuesday, which included NFL-style "thudding up" without taking players to the ground on tackles and absolutely no chance of letting his quarterbacks go live.
Line change: Individually, the five guys up front all appear to have the skills needed to succeed on the offensive line. But since none of those individuals were a part of the starting unit at the end of last season, it's still up to them to prove they can get the job done collectively.
The Vols will open camp with Dallas Thomas and Ja'Wuan James at tackle, JerQuari Schofield and Jarrod Shaw at guard and Cody Pope at center, a group that's only experience together came during 15 spring practices. Pope should be the one to watch during camp though, since UT had more than a few struggles snapping during those early workouts under Dooley.
- Austin Ward