With less than 10 days until "it's football time in Tennessee," it's time to meet the new faces in the starting lineup for the 2013 Volunteers. There will be 11 such players, two of which were a coach's decision to promote over returning starters.
Six of the eleven are from the offense, including all three wide receivers. The offensive line lost just one player and Rajion Neal will be returning at running back, but the rest of the offense is brand new. After a historic 2012 campaign, the 2013 offense may have some catching up to do.
The defense features five new starters, two of which impressed coaches enough to leapfrog incumbent starters. In today's college game, though, the title of starter is really just that -- a title. Fast-paced offenses require constant substitutions on the defense's part.
There is but one true freshman slated to start this fall simply because he's the best and not because of injury to an upperclassman. There's plenty of young talent across the field, though, so if a freshman isn't a starter on opening day, he certainly could be by season's end.
Enough talk! Meet your new starting Tennessee Volunteers.
Weight: 222 lbs
Player Replacing: Tyler Bray
After two years of backing up Tyler Bray, Justin Worley has won the starting job.
The South Carolina native arrived in Knoxville with plenty of high school accolades in 2011, including Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior. He had offers from Florida, Notre Dame, LSU and Florida State.
Because of his predecessor's slight frame, Worley hasn't ridden the bench during his two-year career as a Vol. In his true freshman season, Worley started against South Carolina, MTSU and Arkansas in relief of Bray (injury) and Matt Simms (general awfulness).
While he only went 1-2 as a freshman, had Da'Rick Rogers been able to reel in a perfectly thrown 43-yard bomb against South Carolina, the Worley-led Volunteers would've taken a 10-7 lead over the Gamecocks in a game that only saw 17 total points scored.
As a sophomore, Worley saw playing time in a blowout win over Georgia State, blowout loss against Alabama and in one of a number of odd coaching calls during the epic Vanderbilt embarrassment. Four games of SEC experience is important for a new quarterback.
With a full offseason of consistent reps, it will be interesting to see how Worley performs as the number one.
Weight: 302 lbs
Position: Offensive Guard
Player Replacing: Dallas Thomas
Alex Bullard has a big hole to fill, literally and figuratively. At 6'5", 306 lbs, Dallas Thomas' departure from the Tennessee offensive line left a lot of mass to fill, but more importantly, his leadership is gone too.
Thomas displayed total unselfishness as a senior last year when he moved from the prime left tackle spot to left guard without a single complaint. It may have cost him money in the 2013 NFL Draft, but he wisely recognized the necessity of getting the future preseason All-American Antonio Richardson on the field.
Bullard is up to the challenge. Like Thomas, he's extremely versatile, playing center and guard in his two years as a Vol. He even saw time as a blocking tight end in 2012.
A Nashville native, Bullard spent his first two years of college at Notre Dame, who he picked as a 4-star recruit among offers from Auburn, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Tennessee. After the death of his father in 2010, he felt the need to move home.
As a senior, he'll join an incredibly gifted and experienced line that features four seniors and one junior who will likely be a 2014 first-rounder.
Weight: 223 lbs
Position: Wide Receiver
Player Replacing: Cordarrelle Paterson
Jason Croom is huge. For reference, the redshirt sophomore from Georgia is the same height and just 10 pounds lighter than the NFL's best wide receiver, Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.
He's come on strong during the offseason, winning praise from Butch Jones and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni. Azzanni has moved him all over the field, finding the best spot to use his sizable frame.
Weight: 215 lbs
Position: Wide Receiver
Player Replacing: Justin Hunter
The Vols decided to give the starting nod to true freshman Marquez North.
There is absolutely no doubt about North's physical ability; he's already NFL size. But the 4-star prospect out of North Carolina still has a way to go, as wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni stated, "I never try and put expectations on a freshmen because they’re freshmen."
North was one of the key players to watch over the offseason, gaining the praise of starting tackle Ja'Wuan James, who said North was the most outstanding offensive freshman in camp.
North had offers from Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon and a host of other elite schools before becoming the headlining signing for Tennessee in February.
Weight: 185 lbs
Position: Wide Receiver
Player Replacing: Zach Rogers
Alton "Pig" Howard is one of the few wide receivers that Tennessee fans will recognize this fall. As his height and weight indicate, Howard makes his minions as a quick, highly versatile offensive weapon on the outside.
Last season, Howard was one of two Volunteers who caught, rushed and passed the football. The other was Cordarrelle Patterson. In fact, Howard's one career pass was a 13-yard touchdown, so his quarterback rating stands at a cool 539.2!
The 4-star receiver from Florida had offers from Ohio State, Miami, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Florida, Nebraska, South Carolina, USC, Butch Jones' Cincinnati team and more.
In the Vols' up-tempo offense, Howard could become a featured player, moving the ball with direct snaps, end-arounds and quick screens.
Weight: 248 lbs
Position: Tight End
Player Replacing: Mychal Rivera
Brendan Downs was looking like a bright 2012 prospect until he suffered a serious knee injury in the preseason. That limited his contribution to the team last year, though he did play in 10 games and catch his first touchdown.
Replacing Mychal Rivera, one of the most prolific offensive tight ends in school history, won't be easy. Another challenge will be keeping the slew of skilled backups at bay. Woody Quinn, Justin Meredith and A.J. Branisel are all ready to go on a moment's notice.
In 2011, Downs was a solid in-state prospect with offers from Mississippi State, Baylor and Maryland. The 3-star chose Tennessee in part because it's nearest to his hometown of Bristol.
Downs' physique is perfect as a tight end, and Worley will certainly target him often.
Weight: 265 lbs
Position: Defensive End
Player Replacing: Darrington Sentimore
Marlon Walls hasn't panned out in his three playing years on Rocky Top. The 4-star South Carolina native was recruited by Lane Kiffin, coached by Derek Dooley and is now finishing his career under Butch Jones, his third coach.
The tumultuous coaching situation of the past five years could certainly have a lot to do with it.
Luckily, he's filling the hole left by ho-hum JUCO transfer Darrington Sentimore whose lone season at Tennessee was as forgettable as the coordinator experiments called Dave Clawson and Sal Sunseri.
Miller has 37 games of playing experience but just four starts as a Volunteer.
Weight: 277 lbs
Position: Defensive Tackle
Player Replacing: Maurice Couch
When the 2013 Preseason Depth Chart was released at the end of July, the biggest surprise was the leapfrogging of Daniel Hood over the incumbent starting defensive tackle Maurice Couch.
Of course, Couch missed all of the spring due to an injury, but so did Curt Maggitt, and the coaches have made it clear that he will assume his starting role immediately once healthy. It appears that Butch Jones wants versatility on the defensive line, which Hood provides at tackle when coupled with Daniel McCullers 350-pound body.
Hood came out of Knox Catholic in 2009 as a 3-star offensive tackle. He was recruited heavily at first until elements of a troubled past came up and scared away many schools. Tennessee stayed with him, and Hood has been a model citizen since.
Now for some model on-field performances from the redshirt senior!
Weight: 221 lbs
Position: Outside Linebacker
Player Replacing: Herman Lathers
Last year, the veteran Herman Lathers filled in the third linebacker position beside A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt. This year, another veteran in Brent Brewer will do the same.
With the emergence of Brian Randolph and Byron Moore at the two safety positions, as well as Brewer's naturally stout frame, the decision was finally made to move him from strong safety to linebacker. Brewer, after all, is best known as a Volunteer for his big hits across the middle, so this move makes sense.
Brewer is a 25-year old senior because he spent four years playing professional baseball in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system. Obviously a great athlete, Brewer had originally signed to play football at Florida State in 2006 before switching sports.
A successful season for Brewer would be to step in, assume his new role quietly and make some noise with a few tackles across the middle early in the season.
Weight: 199 lbs
Player Replacing: Byron Moore
Joining Daniel Hood as the second player who beat out a healthy incumbent starter is sophomore LaDarrell McNeil.
After Brian Randolph went down with a season-ending knee injury during the Florida game last year, LaDarrell McNeil was thrust into the starting lineup as a true freshman. He tallied 58 tackles and one fumble recovery in seven starts, eleven games total.
McNeil was one defensive player who was doing most of his work on total instinct, as we was receiving very little coaching. Now he has unseated his former partner Byron Moore as the starter.
McNeil was a top 100 player coming out of high school and chose Tennessee over Notre Dame, USC, Texas A&M, Clemson and Michigan.
Weight: 180 lbs
Player Replacing: Prentiss Waggner
Butch Jones brought in JUCO defensive back Riyahd Jones to replace Prentiss Waggner as a stopgap solution for 2013. But after news came out of Jones' sore calves that would keep him out for months, it's come time for true freshman Cameron Sutton to grow up fast.
Currently, he's the only true freshman expected to start on opening day.
Sutton has a sub-4.5 second 40-yard time and was rated a 3-star cornerback coming out of high school. He had offers from South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss and North Carolina.
His fellow cornerback, Justin Coleman, was also a full-time true freshman starter, so hopefully the junior will be able to mentor Sutton's transition.