KNOXVILLE — Though many more players fall into this category, here are five Vols who need to make the most of the next month's 15 practices.
• Either quarterback: The quarterback competition figures to be one of Tennessee's most important questions throughout the offseason, and rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman get the first chance to make an impression on a new staff. Will Jones want to name a starter after mid-April's spring game, or will he prefer to have to race continue into the summer, when freshmen Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs arrive on campus? The 6-foot-4, 213-pound Worley, who started three games (including two SEC games) in 2011 and threw 23 passes as Tyler Bray's backup in 2012, has the edge in experience, while Peterman, a 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jacksonville, Fla., native whom Jones and offensive Mike Bajakian recruited heavily at Cincinnati, may be a better fit in the power spread offense, though Jones has insisted since taking the job he molds his system to his quarterback's skill set.
• Alton "Pig" Howard: The speedy rising sophomore is one of three returning wide receivers who have a caught a pass in a game, and it's possible Howard will continue doing more than that in Tennessee's new offense. With the previous staff, the 5-foot-8, 185-pounder played in the slot receiver and ran his own wildcat package, and his role might have been larger if preseason foot surgery hadn't sidelined him last August and September. Howard's skills mirror those of Ralph David Abernathy, the shifty 5-foot-7, 161-pounder who had 69 rushing attempts and 28 catches and returned kickoffs for Jones at Cincinnati in 2012.
• Riyahd Jones: Whether it's fair or not, most big-time college programs sign junior college transfers with the expectation they'll contribute immediately. The Vols have signed some effective JUCO players in recent years, and Tennessee's new staff hopes Jones, who played in 10 games at Georgia Southern in 2011, can follow suit. The 6-foot, 186-pound cornerback has a chance to make the tricky adjustment to big-time college football early and help the Vols at position where it's badly needed.
• Brian Randolph: Of Tennessee's most talented returning players, Randolph makes the list because the rising junior safety is nearly six months removed from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It remains to be seen how limited he'll be during the next month, but spring practice is an important chance for Randolph to get back on the field and clear the mental hurdle that seems to come with recovering from ACL injuries. The Vols need Randolph, an intelligent player and good last-line tackler who's a key part of the secondary, back at full strength.
• Corey Miller: The move from a 3-4 defense back to the 4-3 means Tennessee must redo the process of seeing who fits best where in the front seven, but Miller, a rising senior, is likely an edge pass rusher in any defense. The Vols' entire defensive line needs a good spring practice, and new defensive coordinator John Jancek and defensive line coach Steve Stripling must identify players who can pressure the quarterback. Despite missing spring practice last year, Miller had his most productive season and showed some good flashes on which he can build from last season.
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 ...