The Tennessee Volunteers' spring practice is officially underway. Already, there are a few position battles heating up that are worth keeping an eye, especially with the switch from the 4-3 defensive to the 3-4.
Aside from some shuffling on the offensive line, every position on the offense is cemented. I have one on this list of five, though, that's worth watching.
Except A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt, Brian Randolph and Prentiss Waggner, the depth chart on the defense is very flexible. First, the defense wasn't that great in 2011, and second, there is a new defensive coordinator in the fold.
Let's have a look at the five best spring football battles.
The one and only position battle worth watching on offense concerns Da'Rick Rogers. What's new?
Rogers is now back in practice, but his turbulent two-plus years as a Tennessee Volunteer has to mean that the door is open for a two-time JUCO All-American to win a starting spot.
Cordarrelle Patterson, who played with backup quarterback Justin Worley in high school, was the Vols' biggest signing in the 2012 class. He comes in ready to play immediately.
Rogers is talented enough to be a first-round draft pick in 2013, but it's his work ethic and attitude that could hold him back. His teammates love him, and Derek Dooley always defends him, yet he tends to find himself in these pseudo-suspensions too often.
Patterson gives Tennessee some leeway with regard to Rogers. Let's see what happens.
Former defensive ends Jacques Smith and Willie Bohannon are now fighting for one of the outside linebacker positions in the 3-4 defense.
Smith is the prototypical speed-rusher on the outside, and he has shown flashes of brilliance in his time at Tennessee. Bohannon, though, is close on his heel and has the experience of a senior.
While I would prefer to see the electric Smith, I expect the linebacker corp to rotate frequently since the Vols are blessed with plenty of depth there.
Defensive ends in the 3-4 tend to be a bit heavier than traditional 4-3 defensive ends. That's why Stephen Fowlkes might be fighting an uphill battle as the current starter on the depth chart.
Opposite the 280-pound Marlon Walls, Fowlkes is undersized at 265 pounds. Newcomer Darrington Sentimore has the size advantage over Fowlkes at 290 pounds, but he's having to prove his worth in his first spring with the Vols.
Sentimore signed with Alabama in 2009 before attending junior college. Sal Sunseri was the linebackers coach there at the time, which could give Sentimore another slight advantage.
Brent Brewer was called the "X "factor to the 2012 season by many (me). Instead, he couldn't keep his weight down and has become the "XXL" factor.
Brewer at safety is the preferable option, but he is now looking more and more like the outside linebacker opposite Jacques Smith. That means Prentiss Waggner either has to move back to safety or a relative unknown has to step up.
Enter Rod Wilks and Geraldo Orta. In his senior year, Wilks is looking to salvage what has been an uneventful career on Rocky Top. He has never started but did play in each game last season.
Orta is a redshirt freshman who had offers from Clemson, South Carolina and Maryland in 2011. Suffice it to say that the fight to play alongside Brian Randolph is wide open.
For what it's worth, I think the most important position in the 3-4 defense is the nose tackle. You need a mammoth of a man to clog up the middle and take at least two offensive linemen each play.
Maurice Couch leads the way for the job as the most experienced Volunteer of the big fellas, but Daniel McCullers isn't far behind. Couch's 305 pounds is pretty impressive until you learn that McCullers carries 380 pounds. Hey, hey, hey!
Daniel Hood is penciled in as the backup to Couch right now, but the truth is, the nose tackle position is up in the air. I expect Couch will get spot by the end of the spring, but I won't be surprised if someone steals it.