When classes start for Tennessee on Wednesday, the rosters will expand and an influx of walk-ons will arrive.
The Vols have one more practice before game week, but training camp will essentially end when professors start their lectures on Wednesday morning.
What will the Vols look like as they embark on the 2013 season?
Two senior reserves — defensive back Naz Oliver and linebacker Channing Fugate — departed this month. Fugate is transferring to Eastern Kentucky in his home state, while coach Butch Jones said he would support Oliver’s efforts to transfer elsewhere if he chooses.
That leaves an estimated 81 scholarship players, four under the NCAA maximum of 85. (The scholarship tally is not official, nor is it always clear who is a walk-on and who has been placed on scholarship).
Oliver was the lone player from New Jersey. Perhaps surprisingly, Fugate was the only Kentuckian. Of the 81 remaining players, nearly 30 percent hail from Tennessee. Georgia (18 players), Florida (14), South Carolina (5), North Carolina (4) and Ohio (4) are also represented.
There are 19 seniors, including about a dozen likely starters, and 20 juniors on the scholarship roster, a respectable total for a program that has endured multiple coaching changes.
Those years don’t always translate into experience.
Thirteen players have played in 30 or more games at UT, while 32 haven’t played in any.
Five players have started 20 or more games; fifty players have started none.
“They’re going to be challenged right off the get-go,” said defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who will start a true freshman at cornerback. “But if you’re a player, you’ll thrive in the moment. Some of the young guys that have been playing for us through camp have done a nice job. This past Saturday in front of our fans was really good with how they handled it.”
The Vols have experience and numbers along the line. Thirty scholarship players are linemen — 17 on defense and 13 on offense. There are a dozen linebackers, a dozen defensive backs and 11 receivers.
Even without Fugate, five of the linebackers are seniors.
“I’ve got a great room as far as maturity,” said linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen. “They’re really into football. They know when to play and when to get serious.”
After Oliver’s departure, only three players remain from the 2009 class. The 2011 signing class has had the most staying power, with 22 players from that group. The 2012 class has already dwindled to 15.
There is only one consensus five-star player on the roster — offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James. Of the remaining Vols who were ranked, 22 were four-star prospects, 55 had three stars and two were only two stars. (One of those two-star players, linebacker Dontavis Sapp, is likely to start as a senior).
In the 2014 class, Jones and the Vols have commitments from one five-star, 10 four-stars and 12 three-stars and one two-star.
Jones has said he thinks little of the star system once the games begin.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to leadership and your senior class,” Jones said. “I’ve never been a part of a successful football team that didn’t have a strong senior class. The hourglass is turned over for them. They have 12 opportunities left and we’re working for 13 and then 14.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.