Tennessee football's spring answers some questions for season, raises others

University of Tennessee quarterback Nathan Peterman looks to pass the ball during the Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 20, 2013. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

University of Tennessee quarterback Nathan Peterman looks to pass the ball during the Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 20, 2013. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

With the start of the football season still several months away, spring practice is often better for raising questions than answering them.

Tennessee’s spring was no exception.

The Vols’ six-week, 15-practice season ended Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 61,076 at the Orange and White Game (replay 9 p.m. Monday, ESPNU) that left first-year coach Butch Jones feeling pleased about the program’s direction.

“This football team is as eager and as willing as any football team that I have ever coached,” he said.

While that doesn’t mean the Vols are ready for the season opener on Aug. 31, “I think we’re right on schedule,” Jones said.

Six weeks ago, we looked at five pressing questions for UT heading into spring ball. Some have been answered, but as is often the case, most are unresolved.

1. Will junior Justin Worley or redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman emerge from spring as the favorite to win UT’s quarterback job?

It’s safe to say Worley will enter the summer as No. 1 on the unofficial depth chart, but it’s far too early to call him a lock — or even a heavy favorite — to win the job outright in August.

The spring game demonstrated some of the limitations Peterman contended with this spring — a lackluster receiving corps and tackling restrictions on quarterbacks didn’t allow him to demonstrate his running ability. Worley appeared to make fewer mistakes and was more in command of the offense. The good news is the two competitors appear to get along and are committed to being co-leaders of the offense this summer.

2. Can the secondary shake off a miserable season to reach its potential?

The answer to this question won’t be known until well into the season, but there were encouraging signs this spring. The health and growth of Brian Randolph and Justin Coleman were promising. LaDarrell McNeil followed up a nice freshman year with a solid spring. Junior college newcomer Riyahd Jones must be more consistent, but he’s laid a foundation to win a starting job in August.

3. What personnel changes will UT make to accommodate the return to a 4-3 defense?

Early in camp, coaches moved Jacques Smith and Corey Vereen down to the “Leo” end, while safety Brent Brewer shifted to linebacker. The final question could be answered when Curt Maggitt is back to full health and coaches decide whether to place him at linebacker or end. A case could be made for both positions. UT’s line and linebacking corps both have surprising depth for a unit that struggled as much as it did in 2012.

4. On the practice fields, how will Jones and his crew differ from Derek Dooley’s staff in coaching style and temperament?

The media — and former players who stopped by practice — saw more of practice in the spring than at any time in the Dooley era. It’s not a stretch to say that Jones might have one of the most generous viewing policies in the SEC.

The openness showcased a fun, up-tempo style that utilized music and occasional sound effects. Jones’ commentary from the microphone — sometimes critical, sometimes humorous — was a constant presence in practice.

5. Which of Tennessee’s young receivers can emerge as a much-needed playmaker?

Coaches asked this question throughout the spring and never came up with a satisfactory answer. The closest might be redshirt freshman Jason Croom, although his spring ended prematurely with a hamstring injury. Alton “Pig” Howard remains an option if he can clean up some drops and mental mistakes. Converted running back Devrin Young shouldn’t be counted out, either. The transition to receiver hasn’t always been smooth, but he’s a hard worker and a quick learner with tremendous speed.

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 13

td writes:

"How poor are they that have not patience!" Shakespeare, Othello, Act II, Scene 3. Who says this web site (and the people on it) "ain't got no class!"? That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it!

VolYork45 writes:

I felt relieved to be at the game and see some excitement back in the eyes of Big Orange Country! The game wasn't as good as I hoped, but still fun! Was disappointed by QB play, especially Peterman, but he really was restricted by rules and the depleted receiving corps. I think they'll have a great summer getting better and that come Aug 31st, this team will be alot better! Go Vols!

THEKIDWISCONSIN writes:

It's all good! I'm just thankful Dooley is gone!

And you watch the post game presser and listen to what Jacques Smith said...and it's safe to say so are the kids.

BluezVol writes:

After final exams are concluded, next season's W/L margin will be determined in the weight room and voluntary 7-on-7 drills. With the offense, its all about timing and execution. With the defense, its learning to react to the ball, play your scheme and trust your fellow players.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Won't bother dwelling on the bad QB stats because Jones put them in situations that were meant to test them and the OLine didn't help them much..What I did consider was how the 2 QB's looked overall compared to the rest of the SEC QB's and they look to be well into the bottom half in talent. IMO this offense could be very good if it has a QB that was a threat to run much like Shaw;Manziel and even Driskel. Jones is a pretty smart coach and he will play to our strengths on offense but honestly when I look at Worley and ask can he convert a big 3rd or 4th down and 15 yards with the game on the line??? I think the answer is no; especially with the all SEC defenders he will be facing!!The scenario may sound silly but it's still reality..Like I said Jones will play to his strengths..I watched a lot of Cinncy football last year and they started with Munchie at QB because he could run when needed be he got pulled after the Louisville game where he threw up a wounded duck for an INT in the end zone that would have iced the game..He was replaced by a more pocket style QB

hateNCloveTN writes:

the enthusiasm on the part of the defense to me was the shining light of the game. players seemed much more aware of the situation than at any time during the Dooley era. neither QB looked particularly good but that may have been because of the red shirt and the lack of experience by them and the receivers. I think we will be better than last year and will improve over the next two and be in SEC contention within 2-4 years. Go Vols

DC82_Vol writes:

Good to see the positive vibe coming back to UT. Seems like the players, coaches and fans are enjoying TN FB again. We'll see what the fall has to bring.

rboofer#1417221 writes:

we need to be positive. trust the couching staff, kook forward to september.

pcorange writes:

Realistically, the offense is going to take a step back this year. All you Bray haters are going to see that he really was that good. That said, if they can improve over the summer and we see good improvement on the defensive side of the ball, the light may start shining at the end of the tunnel. Nobody needs to have any delusions of winning the east this year, but we should win some SEC games and hopefully go bowling. Not what UT fans were accustomed to in days of old, but if we will be patient with this coach, I believe he will get us back there.

stoney writes:

in response to td:

"How poor are they that have not patience!" Shakespeare, Othello, Act II, Scene 3. Who says this web site (and the people on it) "ain't got no class!"? That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it!

Have more that thou showest. Shakespeare: King Lear (with fingers crossed)

voloffaith writes:

in response to rboofer#1417221:

we need to be positive. trust the couching staff, kook forward to september.

Not fair to refer to them as a "COUCHING" staff as they work very hard.............

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Not fair to refer to them as a "COUCHING" staff as they work very hard.............

Fulmer's back??

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Fulmer's back??

hey,hey,hey...now, don't go hatin' on the fat stuff! Back in my fat days, I used to brag to the muscleheads that had "six-packs"..."oh, yeah, well, I've got a KEG!"

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