Spring practice is officially over in Knoxville with the conclusion of the Orange and White Game Saturday afternoon. With a steak dinner going to the winners, it was the Orange team coming out on top, 17-14.
Tennessee is heading into a huge season for the program in 2012. Most of the key pieces return, but a lot of coaching turnover and health concerns make things far from certain for the Vols.
All eyes were on Knoxville Saturday for the annual spring game. Who were the winners and losers? Let's take a look.
While most of the key pieces return for the Vols on the offensive side of the football, one of the key positions is still up for grabs. Tauren Poole carried the load at running back in 2011, but the door is wide open for 2012.
Marlin Lane was placed on the Orange team with the second-team offense on Saturday, but he was by far the offensive star of the game. Lane had 103 yards rushing in the first half alone, and scored the only two touchdowns of the game for the Orange team. Lane showed a good burst on the outside and good vision in the middle carrying the football, in addition to making catches out of the backfield and returning kickoffs.
Raijon Neal, Devrin Young, and Lane all seem in line for carries during the fall, but it was Lane who had the best game Saturday, albeit against the second-team defense.
Sophomore wide receiver Jacob Carter has been one of the best stories of the spring for the Vols. The walk-on has developed great chemistry with backup quarterback Justin Worley, and that chemistry showed on Saturday.
Carter had six catches during the second half for the Orange team, and caught everything he could get his hands on.
With the talent Tennessee has at wide receiver, Carter more than likely won't see the field too often on offense this fall. With his performance this spring however, an opportunity to contribute on special teams seems likely.
Tennessee's kicking game has been a weakness over the last few seasons, and it didn't appear any better on Saturday. Michael Palardy missed his only field goal attempt from 32 yards, and Derrick Brodus was 1-of-2 with a 37-yard make and a 27-yard miss.
Palardy and Matt Darr struggled punting the football as well. The punts were consistently short, and didn't have a ton of hang time.
The Vols are in position to be very competitive in 2012, but being competitive means there will be plenty of close games. Like the other facets of the game, special teams plays a large role in winning and losing, and the kicking game must drastically improve before game one against North Carolina State.
The stat line from Saturday for Herman Lathers is not going to stand out and impress anyone. However, the fact that Lathers was able to play and finish the game in good health makes him instantly a winner.
Lathers missed all of 2011 due to multiple injuries. He tried to return late in the season, but the injuries did not allow him to. The news all offseason has pointed to Lathers fully recovering, which would be a huge boost for the Vols.
Tennessee is very thin at the linebacker position, but the defense becomes very flexible with Lathers healthy. It allows Curt Maggitt to move back to the outside and Tennessee's pass rush gets much stronger.
It's still a long way until the opening game August 31, but seeing Lathers on the field is a great sign for the Vols.
The numbers weren't phenomenal for starting quarterback Tyler Bray, but they didn't have to be for him to be a winner. Bray was 14-of-26 for 157 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's spring game.
In the 2011 Orange and White Game, Bray went 5-of-30, leading many Tennessee fans to wonder about his ability as the starting quarterback. Spring game statistics generally don't mean anything, except when they are that bad.
There is no question that Bray is the starting quarterback of this team, and no spring game outcome was going to change that. However, Bray's approach to the game seemed to be much better, and it looks like the first sign of maturation into the leader that Derek Dooley wants his quarterback to be.