Tennessee Vols aiming for 'good show' in spring game

Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs (second from left) calls the play to linemen Mack Crowder (57), Kyler Kerbyson (77) and Brett Kendrick (63) in this 2014 file photo.


* What: Tennessee's Orange and White Game* When: 4 p.m. (Gates open at 2:30)* Where: Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, or live on the SEC Network Alternate channel if you can't make it.* Admission and parking are both free. Visit http://www.utsports.com/gameday/football/ for a complete list of open lots for parking. Shuttles from select parking areas will begin running at noon.* Fan Day: Neyland Stadium's Gate 7 will open at 12:30 p.m. for Fan Day festivities. Players and coaches will be signing autographs and posing for pictures on the field from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. The waiting line for fans will begin at 7 a.m.


Tennessee wraps up spring football practice with today's Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium, and though the Vols have a long list of players who won't be participating for health-related reasons, here are five players you should watch.1. Josh Dobbs: Obviously. The full arsenal for Tennessee's starting quarterback won't be on display because he'll be off limits to get hit, but he'll want to have a good showing throwing the football, particularly after the Vols' passing game recently went through some ups and downs. As long as he doesn't go 5-for-30 like Tyler Bray did in 2011, he should be fine.2. Alvin Kamara: The script for the player who generated the most buzz this offseason should go something like this: Early in the day, the Vols will get the ball to the junior college transfer running back out in space and showcase his skills against a defense missing half of its starters. Then it'll be to the sideline for him. Tennessee needs to take no risks there.3. Any linebacker not named Jalen Reeves-Maybin: Probably the biggest question that Tennessee takes out of spring is who will replace A.J. Johnson and his 425 career tackles at middle linebacker. So far, nobody's staked a claim to the spot. Freshman Darrin Kirkland missed spring, but he and his photopraphic memory could win the job in August.4. Evan Berry: The younger brother of Tennessee star Eric Berry has had a very strong spring, and he'll want it to continue today. He's been active on defense by popping up near the ball and making some big plays. Berry could be a weapon on kickoff returns, too, next season and should get a few chances to showcase his ability there today.5. Josh Malone: In last year's edition of the game, Malone blew up for 181 touchdowns and three touchdowns -- all from Dobbs -- when he should have been a high school senior rather than a freshman receiver in the SEC. He's been largely quiet this spring, but Von Pearson's absence should only open the door more for Malone and Tennessee's other receives.

KNOXVILLE -- From the team on the field to the fans in the Neyland Stadium bleachers, it could be a watered-down afternoon today for Tennessee's annual Orange and White Game.

For weeks, third-year head coach Butch Jones has termed the Volunteers' spring practice conclusion an "event."

There's inclement weather, namely rain and potential thunderstorms, in the forecast and a laundry list of players who won't be participating, but Jones -- who's shown since he took over Tennessee's ailing program that he's somewhat of a showman -- still wants things to go well for the droves of fans, visiting recruits and returning former players in attendance.

"We learn more from the first 14 practices than we do in the last scrimmage," running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Robert Gillespie said. "Obviously we'll want to go out there and put on a good show for the fans and have fun, but the main thing is we want to come out healthy. We won't do a lot of the things that we've done the first 14 practices.

"We'll have to close down camp a little bit and kind of dumb down our system to make it simple so we can go out there and be sound, but also protect who we are as a identity. It's going to be a fun day. Obviously it's big for recruiting to get those guys on campus and meet some of the families and let them get a chance to see our kids and finish the spring strong."

photo Alvin Kamara, left, talks with Evan Berry during practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville in this March 31, 2015.

Weather permitting, of course.

Then again, the Vols kept on trucking through a pretty steady downpour when they held a mid-August open practice at Neyland Stadium two weeks before Jones coached his first game for the Vols.

That practice, though, was two weeks before the season kicked off, when the Vols probably most needed the work.

The circumstances are different for this spring showcase.

"I think it's important for us, but every year is different and every team is different," Jones said earlier this month. "Sometimes spring games are a nightmare for coaches. You're worried about injuries. It's practice 15. You want to finish strong. Right now our spring game is going to be a great event, but it's going to be a challenge managing our numbers."

Probably half of the defenders who will start in the season opener against Bowling Green in Nashville won't play today, and the Vols also are down one offensive line starter and three receivers. Running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara likely will get limited workloads. The same goes for defensive stalwarts such as Brian Randolph, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cam Sutton.

The plan is for the Vols to play two halves -- the first with two 15-minute quarters and the second with 12-minute quarters, all with a running clock -- of 11-on-11 football while mixing in some of what they do daily in practice.

That includes Jones's favorite, the "Circle of Life," in which two players square off and try to drive each other to the edge of a circle formed by their teammates. Jones will pick players in natural matchups to face off, but he'll extend his choices to players of the same position. With a few hundred students on hand last week, he had his two freshman quarterbacks face off.

There will be one-on-one matchups, too, between skill-position players and linebackers and defensive backs as well as offensive and defensive linemen.

"I want to see good tackling, I want to see great effort, I want to see communication and execution and I want to force turnovers," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "Those are the things that we believe in as a unit and as a defense. We're going to be limited with what we do."

"We've got to keep the right guys healthy, and we've got to continue to get guys reps we still want to evaluate."

Said offensive coordinator Mike DeBord: "I want to see us running the football and having great timing with the throw game."

Tennessee's coaches will use some of what happens today as an evaluation tool as the program heads into the summer before a season of higher expectations, but it largely will be about impressing the fans, both in Neyland and watching on the SEC Network, and recruits in attendance.

"I think any time you can get kids on campus for whatever it is, game or not, it's huge," receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. "Whatever the reason it is to get them here ... any time we can get them on campus is big, whether it's the spring game, whether it's a fall game, whether it's just a junior day. We treat it like that all the time.

"But yeah, to have some energy around and people buzzing, absolutely that makes it better."

Contact Patrick Brown at [email protected]