With more than 30 newcomers and few incumbents with firm grasps on their jobs from a season ago, the Tennessee Volunteers' fall practice is going to be one big free-for-all.
Position battles will ensue all over the field. While that is certainly healthy for competition, head coach Butch Jones no doubt wishes he had several more dependable stars.
No more than eight or nine Vols are sure bets to be starters. Everybody else must bring the intensity daily and elevate his play, or somebody talented and inexperienced will surge ahead.
A year ago, the urgency wasn't quite as pronounced for UT's players because there wasn't enough talent on the roster to generate real competition. Senior linebacker A.J. Johnson said at SEC media days last week, according to UTSports.com, that isn't the case anymore:
Some of the guys who came in early in the spring are already on beat, working, being vocal, just as though they've been here for 3 or 4 years. And the guys who just got here this summer, they've got their head down working each day. Some guys came in already knowing the whole defense and are ready to play. You can tell the way they are working, how much they put into their work. It's going to help us a lot. We've got older guys and we've got younger guys, so we've got competition. If you've got competition, everybody is going to go harder and play better.
Even though fans are going to be buzzing about freshmen such as Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone, they are at positions where they'll play a lot regardless of whether they start. There are much more important battles with unclear conclusions.
So, let's take a look at the top five position battles to watch in Knoxville this fall, ranked in order of importance by how much finding the right player will directly impact the team's success.