As impressive as Jonathan Crompton was in Saturday’s Orange and White game, he wasn’t always the team’s most-impressive quarterback this spring. He wants this to be his team, and the coaches want their most experienced quarterback to take control, and Saturday might have been a big step toward making that happen.
Arian Foster got enough work this spring to show he was, as advertised, 10 pounds lighter and one step quicker. He seems poised to reset UT’s career rushing records if he’s healthy this fall, but there are questions behind him — starting again with Montario Hardesty’s health. A foot stress fracture has Hardesty on crutches.
With Lucas Taylor (shoulder surgery) and Austin Rogers (knee) out for most of the spring, Josh Briscoe did what his team needed him to do — he solidified his leadership role with plenty of production, capping off his solid month with a two-touchdown performance Saturday. The young players added some consistency with all their talents. Quintin Hancock, Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore and Ahmad Paige all had their moments.
Josh McNeil’s absence (knee surgery) forced All-America guard Anthony Parker to center, which didn’t help the Vols’ transition into Clawson’s side-switching scheme up front. Offensive line coach Greg Adkins was still relatively pleased with his first-team unit this spring — the reserves, meanwhile, drew plenty of criticism for their inconsistencies.
The Vols are where they were before spring started. Their first-team defensive line looks good enough to win in the SEC, but the reserves — particularly at defensive tackle — have a long way to go, and now they have less time to get there. Tackles coach Dan Brooks and ends coach Steve Caldwell will be tested to develop depth by September.
Dorian Davis’s dismissal left Adam Myers-White and Nevin McKenzie to compete for the strongside linebacker spot, and McKenzie sprained his knee early this spring. That competition should continue into the season, though All-SEC weaksider Rico McCoy and rising senior middle man Ellix Wilson give defensive coordinator John Chavis a solid base.
After injuries and suspensions left Chavis occasionally unable to use his six-defensive-back “Mustang” package in 2007, that defense now looks like the way to put UT’s best 11 on the field. While nothing has been proven yet, this group looks like it has two players capable of starting at all four positions. Chavis has made multiple references to this being the most talented secondary he’s ever coached. “But they have to produce,” he’s always added.
Chad Cunningham is no Britton Colquitt, but he’s also UT’s only legitimate punting option for the first five games, thanks to Colquitt’s most recent arrest. Cunningham still frustrates Fulmer, but he showed more flashes of solid play this spring. The Vols are in good shape with All-America kicker Daniel Lincoln, and they have plenty of good options in the return game. Coverage units, which also relied heavily on Colquitt, will get more extensive work this fall.