published Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Five key questions as Tennessee Vols crank up

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley looks to pass against Vanderbilt in 2012.
Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley looks to pass against Vanderbilt in 2012.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Butch Jones, Tennessee's head football coach, speaks during a news conference in this file photo.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones can go ahead and grab the wireless microphone from storage.

Tennessee's first-year football coach soon will be declaring directives via his preferred teaching tool.

The Volunteers report for training camp Thursday and open preseason preparations with their first practice Friday afternoon.

There are many orders of business, from finding a starter at quarterback and identifying defensive difference-makers to finding help at receiver and determining which newcomers can provide immediate help, and there's little time to waste.

Jones hopes his first Tennessee team can quickly shake the rust from more than three months without one of his practices and build off a summer program geared toward improving players physically and developing team leadership.

"Leadership is nothing more than influence," the coach said at SEC media days last month. "That's why there's good leaders and that's why there's bad leaders. We really did a lot so when we move forward to the summer months, there was a foundation in place.

"Our players have gravitated toward that. They've done a tremendous job, and the big thing about leadership is holding everyone accountable to your standards and your expectations when nobody's watching. Our players right now have a great confidence about themselves [because] they can see the change in their bodies."

With the season looming, the Vols now have a month of practices to capitalize and improve.

Here are five basic questions they face as they begin preseason practice:

• 1. Who emerges as the starting quarterback?

After taking most of the first-team snaps during spring practice, Justin Worley may open training camp as the slight favorite, but the junior figures to share reps with redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshmen Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson as the Vols try to determine their starter.

• 2. How ready is freshman receiver MarQuez North?

The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder from Charlotte was Tennessee's highest-rated signee in February and has created some buzz since his arrival in June, and the Vols need some consistent playmakers to step up from a young and inexperienced receiving corps.

• 3. How healthy is linebacker Curt Maggitt?

To repair a defense in 2012 that statistically was the the worst in Tennessee's history, the Vols must identify some disruptive players. A healthy Maggitt, who tore an ACL in his knee against Missouri last November yet has maintained a leadership role, has the potential to fill that need.

• 4. Where are the answers in the secondary?

At safety, Tennessee has three solid options in Brian Randolph, Byron Moore and LaDarrell McNeil, but the Vols have holes at cornerback, where Justin Coleman is the lone returning player with significant experience, and nickelback, where a void remains after the offseason loss of Eric Gordon.

• 5. What tweaks do Butch Jones and his staff make to practice?

With the season opener rapidly approaching, Tennessee's coaches and players can't focus on the feeling-out process as they did during spring practice, which could lead to a greater sense of urgency, a quicker pace in practice and some other differences as Jones runs his first camp with the Vols.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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