The Tennessee Volunteers closed spring practice with the annual Orange and White Game on Saturday, and fans were able to get their first look at a slew of newcomers who will contribute this fall.
From the four-man quarterback race to the introduction of 14 mid-term enrollees, everybody was on display Saturday—and many got a chance to prove themselves in team and individual drills, all of which contributed to a modified scoring system.
Let's take a look at the first-half grades for head coach Butch Jones' Vols.
|Tennessee Volunteers Spring Game Grades|
|Positional Unit||First-Half Grade||Final Grade|
First-half analysis for the Tennessee Volunteers
Pass Offense: Tennessee's talented receivers were clearly the most impressive group on the field, even though they feasted mostly on the Vols reserve defenders. UT had 10 pass plays over 10 yards in the first half, and five of those went for more than 20 yards. Freshman Josh Malone shined with two touchdowns, and Marquez North scorched Cameron Sutton for a 50-yard score in the only touchdown drive against the first-team defense. Joshua Dobbs and Justin Worley were the two best quarterbacks throughout the first half.
Run Offense: Though the Vols had 151 rushing yards and a 4.7-yard average, the stats were boosted by Dobbs' 59-yard touchdown run following a poor snap. Senior Marlin Lane finally got going against the first-teamers on the touchdown drive, but freshman Jalen Hurd led the way with 48 yards on nine carries.
Pass Defense: The best news for the members of the Vols secondary is they don't have to go against the Vols receivers once the season starts. After the starting cornerback duo of Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, there is a serious talent drop-off, and even Sutton struggled lining up on North. Having Curt Maggitt and Corey Vereen rushing off the edge will help the Vols, but the quarterback pressure still wasn't where it needs to be.
Run Defense: The only thing missing from Dobbs' touchdown run for the defense was circus music. It was a lesson of what not to do fundamentally, as players out of rush lanes led to the 59-yard score. Other than that, the rush defense was solid. After struggling much of the spring, UT's starting defensive line got the best of the rebuilt O-line much of the half.
Special Teams: There's still too much inconsistency in the punting game, as Matt Darr got off to a poor start with a 36-yard punt but followed it up with a 53-yard boomer. George Bullock started the scoring with a 41-yard field goal that had plenty of room to spare, so the kickers looked better than anticipated.
Coaching: Everybody wanted to see Hurd run more against the first-team defense in the first half, and the situational scoring system made the game impossible to follow from a team standpoint, but Jones put his players in every situation imaginable, which is exactly what you're looking for in a glorified scrimmage.
Final analysis for the Tennessee Volunteers
Pass Offense: Worley separated himself from the pack with the best day in team action against the first-team defense. After leading two first-half scoring marches, the rising senior carried a 70-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. Dobbs led four touchdown drives in the game, but all were against the reserves. It was nice to see Riley Ferguson rebound with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Cody Blanc to cap a long drive against the starting D. The only real mistake of the day was Malik Foreman's late interception of Ferguson.
Run Offense: There simply weren't any "wow" runs from the Vols running backs. Though Dobbs and Worley had long scrambles, it would have been nice to see Lane or Hurd break free for a big gain. The offensive line continued to struggle run blocking, even though UT wasn't bad in short-yardage situations. Hurd had a better day than Lane.
Pass Defense: The Vols clearly sputtered on the back end of the defense without safety and leader Brian Randolph, who has missed the entire spring. The corners continued to be beaten routinely by Malone and North in the second half, and UT desperately needs the incoming freshmen to be ready to provide quality depth. There isn't any currently.
Run Defense: After the coaching staff rode the defensive line throughout the spring, they really showed up at times Saturday. Even with A.J. Johnson playing limited snaps, the Vols starting linebackers were sharp as well. Jalen Reeves-Maybin was stuffing runs all over the field, and Kenny Bynum was solid backing up A.J.
Special Teams: Bullock didn't have anymore opportunities to kick field goals, and Darr shook off the first poor punt to hit a couple more solid ones in the second half. There will be the occasional clunker from the rising senior, but if he punts the way he did on Saturday, the Vols may not have as many issues replacing Michael Palardy as they'd originally thought.
Coaching: Whether it was set up or not, Jones keeping Hurd and Malone in for most of the day against the reserves really helped fuel the hype surrounding them. Both had memorable first spring games, and it should be a huge momentum boost for them going into the offseason. Jones also did a cool thing by bringing out moving screens set at certain distances downfield for a live skills challenge for his quarterbacks that sent a buzz throughout Neyland Stadium.
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