Tennessee Football 2012: Breaking Down Spring Practice
The Tennessee Volunteers have struggled the last four years to try and return to the top of the SEC, and this may finally be the season they regain some of that respect.
The Volunteers return a total of 19 starters, including 10 on the offensive side of the ball. They may have only won five games last season, but this team remains talented and now has an extra year of experience under their belt.
But like every team entering a new season, there are questions that need to be answered. That's what spring practice is for, and it kicks off on March 26 for Derek Dooley's club.
Here's the Tennessee Volunteers' spring practice breakdown.
Tennessee begins spring practice on March 26, and the spring game will take place on April 21.
Offensive Depth Chart
Quarterback: Tyler Bray, Justin Worley
Running Back: Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal
Wide Receiver: Da'Rick Rogers, Vincent Dallas
Wide Receiver: Justin Hunter, Zach Rogers
Tight End: Mychal Rivera, Cameron Clear
Offensive Tackle: Dallas Thomas, Antonio Richardson
Offensive Guard: Marcus Jackson, James Stone
Center: Alex Bullard, Mack Crowder
Offensive Guard: Zach Fulton, Jerquari Schofield
Offensive Tackle: Ja'Wuan James, Kyler Kerbyson
Defensive and Special Teams Depth Chart
Defensive End: Marlon Walls, Corey Miller
Nose Tackle: Daniel McCullers, Maurice Couch
Defensive End: Darrington Sentimore, Daniel Hood
Linebacker: Curt Maggitt, Jordan Williams
Linebacker: Nigel Mitchell-Thornton, Jacques Smith
Linebacker: Herman Lathers, Greg King
Linebacker: A.J. Johnson, Dontavis Sapp
Cornerback: Izauea Lanier, Justin Coleman
Cornerback: Marsalis Teague, Prentiss Waggner
Strong Safety: Brent Brewer, Brian Randolph
Free Safety: Prentiss Waggner, Byron Moore
Kicker: Michael Palardy
Punter: Matt Darr
Best Position Battle
For a team that struggled running the ball and struggled to score points like Tennessee did, running back has to be the position to watch the most this spring. You can't be ranked 116th in rushing yards and 106th in scoring offense and expect to win the SEC.
Leading running back Tauren Poole is no longer on the roster, which opens things up for players like Raijon Neal, Marlin Lane and true freshman Davante Bourque.
Lane was the second leading rusher last season, finishing the year with 280 yards and two touchdowns. He's a bigger back at 6'1", 205 pounds and has shown glimpses of explosiveness, like the 45-yard run against Arkansas.
Neal is the versatile running back who has solid hands when he lines up at wide receiver. He's the smaller back at 5'11", and he averaged five yards a carry last season. He's the speedster of the group and is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. Although, he has to work more on his ball security.
Bourque is also a versatile back that was a 3-star prospect in this year's class. He has fantastic hands and great size at 6'2", 200 pounds. He can play several different positions, but with the lack of depth at running back, he may see a lot of time at that position.
Other players to keep an eye on are sophomores Tom Smith and Devrin Young. They finished the season with 43 combined yards on limited carries.
Somebody out of this group has to step up if this season is going to be successful.
Big Man on Campus
For a team that struggled mightily to score points like Tennessee did last season, a solid wide receiver in Da'Rick Rogers is really a breath of fresh air. Rogers took a huge leap his sophomore season, as he finished the year with 67 catches for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. No other player on this roster had over 30 receptions last season.
With his height at 6'3" and athletic ability, the sky is really the limit for his potential, and he could become one of the better wide receivers in all of college football.
I'm really interested to see just where Rogers' career will go from here. He may be on a struggling team, but with playmakers like this, the Volunteers will have a chance to improve moving forward.
Big Shoes to Fill
Under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, the Volunteers will switch to the 3-4 defense, which is hard enough for a young team to adapt to. It will be even more difficult with leading tackler Austin Johnson no longer on the roster.
Sophomore A.J. Johnson, who was fantastic as a true freshman last year, should remain one of the middle linebackers. The other linebacker in the middle will likely be Herman Lathers, who missed the entire season last year with a fractured ankle.
He's ready to go this season, but will have big shoes to fill in his new role. He's extremely quick, as he runs the 40 in the 4.5 range and has a nose for the football. He's a tackling machine, as you saw in 2010 (75 tackles), and it's going to be great to see him on the field once again.
Other Key Questions
Besides the running back questions and how quickly this defense will adapt to the new scheme, you have to be extremely interested in how quickly wide receiver Justin Hunter is rehabbing the season-ending injury he suffered last season. The sophomore wide receiver only played three games, but he was still the third leading receiver with 314 receiving yards.
Hunter is recovering well from his knee injury and could possibly be ready by the time the regular season is ready to kickoff.
If the 6'4" wide receiver is in fact ready to get back on the gridiron soon, you pair him with Da'Rick Rogers and the Volunteers could have quite the wide receiver tandem in 2012.