KNOXVILLE — Two months ago, the Times Free Press posed five questions facing the Tennessee Volunteers football program heading into spring practice.
Today we take a look at whether 12 practices and three scrimmages provided any clarity.
1. Can the early enrollees help immediately?
The position that most needs immediate production help — offensive line — had three 2019 early enrollees who went through the rigors of the spring, with Wanya Morris working his way toward first-team repetitions by the end. He's the most likely to earn a spot in the rotation, if not a starting one. Eric Gray missed some practice due to injury, but the coaching staff was impressed by his knowledge of the game as well as his work ethic. Quavaris Crouch and Jaylen McCullough were a couple other players who showed moments of promise, moments that will become more necessary as spring turns into summer, which turns into preseason camp.
It's not about whether the newcomers can help immediately. It's about how many are going to be asked to.
2. How about that offensive line depth?
What was shown during the spring was some improvement in the position group. That seemingly takes the unit from bad to just not-so-good, but the linemen spent the offseason getting stronger, and if nothing else having the same offensive line coach back for a second straight season is a positive. Morris and Chris Akporoghene went through the spring as true freshmen, but Jackson Lampley, Melvin McBride and Darnell Wright won't be in until the summer. Plus with some optimism — albeit a small amount — that Trey Smith may one day play again, the best depth may have never played a down for the Vols yet. But there's hope that it could come.
3. Who steps up on the defensive line?
Emmit Gooden entered the spring as the only player with any significant experience on the Vols' defensive line. That part hasn't changed, but there are a number of players who showed up and had solid moments during the spring. Matthew Butler had a standout spring according to defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, while converted tight end LaTrell Bumphus, Todd Mincey, Greg Emerson and Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon had good moments. It's unclear if Solomon will be granted a waiver by the NCAA to be made available immediately, but that would help. The depth in some capacity will come from junior college transfers Darel Middleton and Savion Williams. Whether that's as starters or coming in a rotation won't be clear until late summer.
4. What about Jarrett Guarantano's growth?
For the first time, Guarantano entered spring with no real competition for the quarterback job, and it appeared that he settled into that role of leader as the practices went on. While being a sounding board to freshmen J.T. Shrout and Brian Maurer, Guarantano also spent most of the spring trying to be a voice in the locker room and during practices. As far as his on-field growth, that fully remains to be seen, but he did shake off a slow start in the spring game to toss four touchdown passes and earn most valuable player distinction, so that's a positive.
5. And what about those coordinators?
While Jim Chaney has been the more praised coordinator hire, Derrick Ansley has received solid reviews about his job running the defense. Chaney's infectious nature and experience developing offenses around talent — or a lack thereof — will make the Vols a better offensive team in 2019. Ansley's growth alongside head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who has plenty of experience coordinating defenses, will allow the head coach to become more of a decision-maker as opposed to having to be a micromanager, something he had to deal with last season.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.
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