... as spring practice begins Tuesday
1. Is Jonathan Crompton ready?
Jonathan Crompton has every physical tool a college coach would want in a quarterback. At a sturdy 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, the fiery Crompton has a solid arm and above-average athleticism and toughness for a quarterback.
But is he ready to lead the Vols?
Crompton’s clutch performance off the bench against LSU as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago removed what little doubt some had about his skills, but can he command the offense on a consistent basis? Can he channel some of his undeniable passion into poise?
2. Who mans the middle on defense?
Jerod Mayo’s departure left a gaping hole in the middle of UT’s defense. Even for NFL-pipeline-producer John Chavis, players like Mayo don’t come around often. When you lose them — especially one year early — you feel it.
The losses of Mayo and four-year secondary starter Jonathan Hefney will certainly impact UT’s defense. The Vols will almost certainly be more talented overall on defense this coming season, but leadership must emerge from the heart of the defense.
3. Will the young defensive tackles step up?
Despite Hefney’s departure, Eric Berry and recently reinstated junior Demetrice Morley should be one of the nation’s best safety duos. Also, coordinator Chavis has a track record of putting three solid linebackers on the field every Saturday.
But defensive tackle — arguably the most important position on any defense — is a big potential pothole.
First-teamers Demonte Bolden from Tyner Academy and Dan Williams are solid, and Walter Fisher has become a reliable player, but all eyes are now on Chase Nelson, Victor Thomas and Donald Langley. If that talented-but-unproven trio doesn’t step up quickly, Chavis will again have to move ends inside in certain situations.
4. Can anyone punt or kickoff?
Britton Colquitt’s most recent alcohol-related arrest left him suspended from UT’s first five games this season, and it left his team without a proven punter and kickoff specialist.
All-America place-kicker Daniel Lincoln is back for his sophomore season, but he has struggled with kickoffs since arriving in Knoxville. Backup punter Chad Cunningham has shown flashes, but he was very inconsistent last season.
5. Who replaces Chris Brown?
Chris Brown’s statistics last season, while impressive, don’t accurately describe his multiple roles in UT’s offense. Knoxville-area native and former Florida State Freshman All-American Brandon Warren will enroll at UT this summer if he takes care of his academics, but Brown’s leadership, bulldozing blocks and clutch catches will be tough for anyone to replace.
The Vols aren’t hurting for size and skill at the tight end position — even without Warren — but it will likely take a combination of players to replace Brown, who was the team’s Swiss Army knife.