5 Tennessee players to watch when camp opens

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley looks for an open receiver during the fourth quarter against Georgia State at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. Tennessee 51-13 over Georgia State. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley looks for an open receiver during the fourth quarter against Georgia State at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. Tennessee 51-13 over Georgia State. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

When camp opens on Friday, the Tennessee football team will try to pick up where they left off after a spirited spring.

But after eight months on the job, head coach Butch Jones is no longer new, and players are no longer rookies in his system.

That means expectations will be higher, especially for the veterans who could make or break the season.

Here are five players to watch over the next 30 days.

1. Quarterback Justin Worley

He has to win the job first, of course, but if and when he does that, Worley will instantly become the most prominent — and perhaps the most important — player on Tennessee’s roster.

Knoxville, TN - quarterback Justin Worley #14 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Knoxville, TN - quarterback Justin Worley #14 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

Nathan Peterman is the biggest threat to Worley’s starting job, but he’ll have to make a move quickly in camp. That’s also true of the two true freshmen— Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs — who will be given at least a perfunctory shot at the job.

Worley must continue to make the smart decisions that pushed him into the lead in the spring. Jones has said that Tennessee’s margin for error will be slim, which is why turnovers are the quickest way out of the quarterback competition.

2. Running back Rajion Neal

With few experienced receivers, the Vols will lean heavily on their running game. Neal, a senior, and junior Marlin Lane both figure to see plenty of carries, but depth is thin after that. It’s imperative that Neal stays healthy and builds on the positives from last year’s 741-yard campaign.

Knoxville, TN - running back Rajion Neal #20 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Knoxville, TN - running back Rajion Neal #20 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

Entering the season, running backs have been rarely listed as a strength for Tennessee, and are sometimes identified as a weakness. Neal has every right to be miffed by that. He may lack the star power of some other SEC backs, but he’s an experienced and serviceable veteran, and a breakout senior season could alter Tennessee’s outlook dramatically.

3. Linebacker A.J. Johnson

No one begrudges a player getting some preseason attention, especially a hard-working leader like Johnson. But given that Johnson was a key player on one of the worst defenses in Tennessee history in 2012, the bevy of preseason watch lists and honors might have raised eyebrows on UT’s new staff, which saw little to celebrate in last year’s unit.

Knoxville, TN - linebacker A.J. Johnson #45 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics$RETURN$$RETURN$

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Knoxville, TN - linebacker A.J. Johnson #45 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics$RETURN$$RETURN$

Coaches have challenged Johnson from Day 1 to put aside his SEC tackling title from last year and focus on overall productivity. They want every defensive player to be more prepared before the snap and focus on doing their assignments correctly. If that happens, Johnson might have fewer tackles and less attention than he did in 2012, but the defense could improve.

4. Safety Brian Randolph

Randolph was standing on the sidelines as he watched Tennessee’s defense — and its season — fall apart. If Randolph hadn’t been lost to a season-ending injury in the third game of 2012, would it have made a difference?

Knoxville, TN - defensive back Brian Randolph #37 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics$RETURN$$RETURN$

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Knoxville, TN - defensive back Brian Randolph #37 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics$RETURN$$RETURN$

Perhaps not, but Randolph’s presence in a still-uncertain secondary should help the Vols. He eased his way back into action in the spring, and should be able to go at full speed in camp.

Randolph was one of the Vols’ most promising freshmen in 2011, and coaches hope a strong August will propel him to a comeback season.

5. Specialist Michael Palardy

No special teams questions were resolved in the spring, but the early signs indicated that Palardy might be used as place kicker, punter and kickoff specialist.

Knoxville, TN - kicker Michael Palardy #1 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics$RETURN$$RETURN$

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Knoxville, TN - kicker Michael Palardy #1 of the Tennessee Volunteers during photo media day. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics$RETURN$$RETURN$

If that’s the case, the senior will have a heavy burden and must keep his leg fresh in camp. Palardy’s done it before, including for much of last season, when he made 9-of-12 field goals and emerged as the regular punter late in the year.

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

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Comments » 23

aspenvol2 writes:

Beat the rush ... hate Bammer now.

SavTnVol writes:

in response to aspenvol2:

Beat the rush ... hate Bammer now.

Best post this year!

StoneJackBaller writes:

I think of the 5 listed, Palardy is the key. When you have a weak offense (as far as we know), the kicking/special teams game becomes crucial. Pinning teams against their own goal line, shortening the field for your questionable offense, and nailing field goals will be the difference in winning or losing. Here is where the breaks are made. #GeneralNeylandMaxims

Orangeblood13 writes:

work hard men

bUTch_please writes:

McCullers.
End of season 1st Team AP All-American.

Courtesy of Dave Lawson's off season transformation project.

NoChildLeftaDime writes:

in response to StoneJackBaller:

I think of the 5 listed, Palardy is the key. When you have a weak offense (as far as we know), the kicking/special teams game becomes crucial. Pinning teams against their own goal line, shortening the field for your questionable offense, and nailing field goals will be the difference in winning or losing. Here is where the breaks are made. #GeneralNeylandMaxims

Right. We will use our running game to set up our punting game.

wagee12 writes:

Five Players to Watch
Riyahd Jones-- Corner has been a weak spot. Can the juco transfer shore up one side of the field with man coverage skills?
Woody Quinn-- Big athletic juco transfer is playing a position that Jones and Bajakian like to feature in their offense.
Marlin Lane-- He averaged a full yard more per carry than Neal last season, is healthy and will challenge for the starting job.
Dontavius Sapp-- Is the former safety a late bloomer at linebacker. He looked very good in the spring and may be the biggest surprise on the football team.
Alton "Pig" Howard-- Could be the playmaker in waiting that the offense is looking for this fall. he has trimmed down, firmed up and could be explosive in the open field.
Marquez North-- How long will it take for the freshman to adapt to both the speed and physicality of the college game? Has all the tools to be a big time receiver.

antonio14313 writes:

in response to wagee12:

Five Players to Watch
Riyahd Jones-- Corner has been a weak spot. Can the juco transfer shore up one side of the field with man coverage skills?
Woody Quinn-- Big athletic juco transfer is playing a position that Jones and Bajakian like to feature in their offense.
Marlin Lane-- He averaged a full yard more per carry than Neal last season, is healthy and will challenge for the starting job.
Dontavius Sapp-- Is the former safety a late bloomer at linebacker. He looked very good in the spring and may be the biggest surprise on the football team.
Alton "Pig" Howard-- Could be the playmaker in waiting that the offense is looking for this fall. he has trimmed down, firmed up and could be explosive in the open field.
Marquez North-- How long will it take for the freshman to adapt to both the speed and physicality of the college game? Has all the tools to be a big time receiver.

i dare say that your post is more interesting than the actual article!

the season can't start fast enough...

GO VOLS!

t

ctwins writes:

in response to aspenvol2:

Beat the rush ... hate Bammer now.

Rocky flop going behind the woodshed again in 2013..... Bama 23 SEC Titles Little T 13

vol98champ writes:

The OL and DL should be at least good and maybe very good. Evan's 5 need to be good if we are to compete with the 5 nasties on the schedule. Wagee12's 5 and probably a couple more have to be good if we are to win any of those 5. The OL and DL can get us to 5-7 or 6-6. Evan's can get us to 6-6 or 7-5. Add Wagee12's and we can get to 7-5 or 8-4. The unnamed couple more could get us to 8-4 or 9-3. After the last 5 years 9-3 would be almost Heaven.

GerryOP writes:

An interesting list, but not what I expected. I suggest this year will be based on how some of the newcomers perform.

GerryOP writes:

in response to wagee12:

Five Players to Watch
Riyahd Jones-- Corner has been a weak spot. Can the juco transfer shore up one side of the field with man coverage skills?
Woody Quinn-- Big athletic juco transfer is playing a position that Jones and Bajakian like to feature in their offense.
Marlin Lane-- He averaged a full yard more per carry than Neal last season, is healthy and will challenge for the starting job.
Dontavius Sapp-- Is the former safety a late bloomer at linebacker. He looked very good in the spring and may be the biggest surprise on the football team.
Alton "Pig" Howard-- Could be the playmaker in waiting that the offense is looking for this fall. he has trimmed down, firmed up and could be explosive in the open field.
Marquez North-- How long will it take for the freshman to adapt to both the speed and physicality of the college game? Has all the tools to be a big time receiver.

That list is a bit more vital. If Woodbury's list DOES NOT perform, the ship is dead in the water. They can not carry the team. But the list you present will have more affect on how our footVols do this year.

No short list of 5, 10, or 20 players can pull this team. It's going to take a total team effort. And I think Coach Jones can produce that. It's time for some Tennessee football!

USNVOL writes:

Troll seeking attention nothing more nothing less!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to GerryOP:

An interesting list, but not what I expected. I suggest this year will be based on how some of the newcomers perform.

I was under the impression that team concepts would be the questions..Like, how well the defensive secondary plays the zone. How improved will the pass rush be??, and will the ends and corners hold/contain the line of scrimmage. For offense: How will the QB's & WR's gel as far as timing and if our backs can gain some yards on the ground.

keepitreal4vols writes:

Palardy has done what before? Other than missing FG and XP, I'm not sure he's done much of anything before.

gameofvols writes:

in response to ctwins:

Rocky flop going behind the woodshed again in 2013..... Bama 23 SEC Titles Little T 13

Bammer dumb arse with pic holding money, dumb move - 1 TN - 0

sly_stone99#434111 writes:

As long as this team plays hard and doesn't quit on CBJ like they did Dooley we will see the trend eventually turn upward for this team.

SoFlaVol writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

I was under the impression that team concepts would be the questions..Like, how well the defensive secondary plays the zone. How improved will the pass rush be??, and will the ends and corners hold/contain the line of scrimmage. For offense: How will the QB's & WR's gel as far as timing and if our backs can gain some yards on the ground.

On the money, BB, no list of five players can make or break the season in the ultimate team sport. We need solid contribution from offense, defense and special teams. The list shoud be at least 33 players long, and probably closer to 60.

vol98champ writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

I was under the impression that team concepts would be the questions..Like, how well the defensive secondary plays the zone. How improved will the pass rush be??, and will the ends and corners hold/contain the line of scrimmage. For offense: How will the QB's & WR's gel as far as timing and if our backs can gain some yards on the ground.

If our team concepts are not positive Evan's 5 players performance will make no difference in our ability to enjoy this season. I don't know what happened last year, because I couldn't watch a lot of it. I kinda believe that on both sides of the ball we had 11 players who were individuals rather than teammates. Team concepts will win us 5 games this fall. That plus thirty guys playing up to their potential will at least be fun to watch.

PHAT_VOL writes:

The most important position on the field is the Quarterback. Right now we dont have one. Justin or Nathan are without a doubt the ones to watch. Maybe our sterling offensive line can make up for the Q.B.s lack of experience until Justin or Nathan can become established.

GerryOP writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

I was under the impression that team concepts would be the questions..Like, how well the defensive secondary plays the zone. How improved will the pass rush be??, and will the ends and corners hold/contain the line of scrimmage. For offense: How will the QB's & WR's gel as far as timing and if our backs can gain some yards on the ground.

Bipolar, I think that is what I was trying to say. The capability of the team will be greater than the sum of the parts. And Coach Jones is the one to orchestrate pulling that off. Our footVols are gonna surprise quit a few people this year! 8-4 is possible.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

I was under the impression that team concepts would be the questions..Like, how well the defensive secondary plays the zone. How improved will the pass rush be??, and will the ends and corners hold/contain the line of scrimmage. For offense: How will the QB's & WR's gel as far as timing and if our backs can gain some yards on the ground.

I'll safely assume the QB's were working with the WR's on their own this summer like most do. But the who and what of that is always the big mystery, Guess we will see quickly if Worley spent the summer reading comic books or throwing to young receivers cause his spring was pretty average

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

I'll safely assume the QB's were working with the WR's on their own this summer like most do. But the who and what of that is always the big mystery, Guess we will see quickly if Worley spent the summer reading comic books or throwing to young receivers cause his spring was pretty average

No doubt, if he got anything from Peyton's QB camp it would be developing chemistry between himself and his primary targets.

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