One of the first orders of business for a new college football coach is to declare open season.
Forget the past. Every position is open.
Tennessee’s Butch Jones can no longer be categorized as a new coach. But there might be more competition for positions this spring than in his first year.
The most publicized competition will be at quarterback, where the same foursome that competed at the position last season will renew the competition when spring practice begins Friday.
But a much-publicized recruiting class, which included 14 early enrollees, will add to the competition at numerous positions.
In 2013, Tennessee had ample experience in both lines. Not this spring. Instead, new players and old ones with little experience will have opportunities for playing time that wasn’t available last year.
No other SEC team will have as many starting positions open on the two lines, which obviously puts Tennessee on shaky ground.
However, it’s worth noting that UT didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage even with its veteran units last fall.
The Vols ranked second in the SEC in sacks allowed last season, which speaks well of their offensive line. But they were ninth in the conference in rushing.
Their defensive stats are more damning. UT was last in the SEC in sacks and second to last in rushing defense.
Given those shortcomings, it’s no wonder the better teams on UT’s schedule often amassed points and yards at will.
And it’s no wonder that 32 newcomers, especially the 14 early enrollees, could make a difference this fall.
Last year, Ole Miss, like Tennessee this year, had a top-10 recruiting class. And the class had an immediate impact.
Four true freshmen started and three were backups on the 22-man depth chart at the end of the season. The Rebels finished 8-5 after beating Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl.
But Ole Miss had more veteran talent on that team than Tennessee will have this season. So it’s not unreasonable to think UT’s recruiting class could have an even greater impact.
Ole Miss’ four freshman starters didn’t just make first string. They all flashed All-SEC potential.
Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil was a first-team, freshman All-American; wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was the SEC freshman of the year.
Freshmen boosted the defense, too. Tackle Robert Nkemdiche made freshman first-team All-American; safety Tony Conner tied for third on the team in tackles.
Some of UT’s highly rated newcomers are included in its early enrollees. That won’t hurt their chances of contributing right away. Also, they’re at positions of need on a team full of needs.
You would think 6-foot-8 junior college transfer Dontavius Blair would be good enough to compete for a starting job on an unproven offensive line.
Daniel Helm, who also is already enrolled, is the second-highest rated tight end recruit in the country, according to Rivals.com. If he plays up to that billing, he could win a starting job.
Running back Jalen Hurd is another early enrollee who seemingly has the credentials to compete for a starting position.
Both Josh Malone and junior college transfer Von Pearson, two more early enrollees, could move into the receiver rotation immediately.
Those are just a few examples why this spring practice could be enlightening for Tennessee’s football future.
And the competition will only heat up in August when the rest of UT’s top-10 recruiting class arrives.