The Tennessee Volunteers 2014 offense is going to be young but very talented. Losing the entire offensive line and the primary running back isn't the best way to start an offseason, but that's the reality, and you won't hear Butch Jones using it as an excuse.
It's time to take an early look at the two-deep depth chart.
This fall could be as tough as 2013. Tennessee is looking at five to seven wins, the latter of which would make the 2014 campaign a success. The Vols are 16 years removed from 1998. The incoming freshmen were two years old when Tennessee won the national championship. Lamenting the fact that a bowl trip would make this season a success is living in the past and failing to see reality.
Luckily, Tennessee has the right guy at the helm to return the program to its winning ways. His offense will go through growing pains, but you'll see flashes of brilliance from the talent on the field.
First string: Justin Worley
Second string: Josh Dobbs
The Tennessee quarterback position is wide open. There's plenty of talent and potential but not a lot of experience or on-field success. Worley gets the edge because he's the senior and has started to establish himself as the team leader this spring.
All but one of the four scholarship quarterbacks started at least one game last year, so if the starter is still up in the air, the backup is a total unknown. There's going to be a lot of chatter for Riley Ferguson—the only quarterback who didn't have a chance to screw up last year.
I implore you to curb your enthusiasm and remember what happened at Florida with Nathan Peterman. Dobbs gets the nod because of experience.
First string: Marlin Lane/Jalen Hurd
Second string: Derrell Scott/Alden Hill
The experience is with Lane and Hill, but the talent and future of the program is with Hurd and Scott. I hate when writers hedge their bets by naming eight guys as possibilities for one position, but the way Butch Jones is putting together the offense, there is going to be a lot of rotating in the backfield, so I had to.
Lane has been a so-so back his entire Volunteer career. He's shifty and can get on a roll but isn't reliable. The 6'3", 227-pound true freshman Hurd could be sensational and may be the starter a few games into the season. He brings a completely different look as a running back.
For reference, he's taller and heavier than Darren McFadden, who is 6'1", 218 pounds.
First string: Marquez North, Lavon Pearson, Pig Howard
Second string: Jason Croom, Josh Malone, Devrin Young
Like running back, the wide receiver position features an incredible amount of talent and potential. I expect the Vols to line up with two prototypical receivers—North and Pearson—and one slot guy—Howard.
Pearson has superstar potential. His skills and JUCO background could draw comparisons to Cordarrelle Patterson. He was brought in to give the quarterbacks a viable option opposite North, since Croom struggled in that role last fall.
Malone is going to be hard to keep off the field, too. He's just a freshman but comes in with more accolades than North did last year.
First string: Brendan Downs
Second string: Daniel Helm
Are you starting to see a trend? There's a lot of unproven talent all over the offense, and tight end is no exception. Downs is a senior this fall, and with an entirely new offensive line, he has the inside track to start and provide some leadership up front.
Mixing in with him could be anyone from A.J. Branisel or Woody Quinn to Ethan Wolf or Helm, whom I've selected. He's the most talented of the bunch, including Downs, and is an early enrollee.
First string: Kyler Kerbyson, Dontavius Blair
Second string: Austin Sanders, Ray Raulerson
Losing Antonio Richardson and Ja'Wuan James hurts. Though the 2013 offensive line was the subject of much criticism because of its combination of skill and experience, you knew you could pencil in the bookend tackles each Saturday.
Kerbyson has been the backup for both tackle spots for a couple of years now and is primed to step up. JUCO signee Blair brought his 6'8", 300-pound body to Knoxville at the perfect time. Sanders could mix in when one of the starters needs a breather, and the second backup is a total unknown.
Raulerson is there, but so are Brett Kendrick, Dylan Wiesman (if he's not starting elsewhere) and Coleman Thomas.
First string: Marcus Jackson, Dylan Wiesman
Second string: Coleman Thomas, Charles Mosley
Jackson is a no-brainer here since he has starting experience. Wiesman was one of the up men in punt formations last year, and he's a classic in-the-trenches kind of guy.
The backups? Yet again, a tossup. There is always a lot of shuffling on the offensive line, as many players can play several positions. Austin Sanders could put in some work at guard, but the two players with the best physique for the job are true freshmen Thomas and Mosley.
First string: Mack Crowder
Second string: Coleman Thomas
Crowder has been the presumed successor to James Stone for a few years now. If he goes down at any point this season, the best course of action would be to move Marcus Jackson over from guard and plug in Thomas, Austin Sanders or another player there.
For now, Thomas gets another backup job.
Quarterback: (1) Justin Worley, (2) Josh Dobbs
Running back: (1) Marlin Lane, (2) Jalen Hurd
Wide receiver No. 1: (1) Marquez North, (2) Jason Croom
Wide receiver No. 2: (1) Lavon Pearson, (2) Josh Malone
Wide receiver No. 3: (1) Pig Howard, (2) Devrin Young
Tight end: (1) Brendan Downs, (2) Daniel Helm
Offensive tackle: (1) Kyler Kerbyson, (2) Austin Sanders
Offensive tackle: (1) Dontavius Blair, (2) Ray Raulerson
Offensive guard: (1) Marcus Jackson, (2) Coleman Thomas
Offensive guard: (1) Dylan Wiesman, (2) Charles Mosley
Center: (1) Mack Crowder, (2) Coleman Thomas