Tennessee Football: 5 Stars Who Will Break out in 2014
With the Tennessee Volunteers' 2014 season only two days away, the team's biggest playmakers will soon begin to emerge, starting with the team's opening game against the Utah State Aggies.
Although many fans are looking toward the freshmen who enrolled in the winter and spring as the biggest X-factors on the team, some of the most promising stars are those with a year or more of experience under their belts who are poised to take the conference by storm.
For Tennessee to have a successful season and reach a bowl game, it not only needs its freshman class to grow up in a hurry, but it also needs its established stars to become truly dominant at their positions.
Here are five players on the Tennessee roster who have the best chances of becoming breakout stars in 2014.
5. Jashon Robertson
Jashon Robertson was committed to the Vanderbilt Commodores for much of the 2013 recruiting season, but a late flip to the Vols just before national signing day ended up being a coup for head coach Butch Jones and offensive line coach Don Mahoney.
Robertson is listed as a starter at right guard for the Vols' season opener against Utah State. Considering that he arrived on campus in June and only recently began working with the offensive line, Robertson's potential for success at the position is sky-high.
Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that Robertson's surge in fall camp not only surprised his teammates, but it also bumped fellow freshman phenom and early enrollee Coleman Thomas out of a starting position at right tackle.
Stats-wise, it's difficult to truly measure an offensive lineman's prowess. However, Robertson's talent and rapid ascent of the depth chart could make him the team's next Ja'Wuan James—a four-year starter on the offensive line with an NFL future ahead of him.
4. Von Pearson
Like Robertson, Lavon Pearson shook up the established depth chart almost immediately upon his arrival in Knoxville in January 2014.
However, unlike some of his fellow newcomers, Pearson has age and experience on his side. The junior college transfer is 23 years old, making him one of the oldest players on the Vols roster. He also may be one of the most talented.
But Pearson's talent isn't the only thing that set him apart from his fellow wide receivers and earned him a starting position. Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni says Pearson thanks him for the opportunity to play at Tennessee during every practice, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press's Patrick Brown.
It's hard to ask for much more from a wide receiver than elite talent and a hard-working mentality. With Marquez North drawing attention on the other side of the field, Pearson should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his abilities and work ethic this season and become of the team's most reliable offensive weapons.
3. Curt Maggitt
Although his career has been hampered by injuries, it's hard to deny the explosiveness and speed of Curt Maggitt.
He missed most of the 2012 season due to turf toe and all of the 2013 season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against the Missouri Tigers on November 10, 2012.
Now that he's healthy again, Maggitt may be defensive coordinator John Jancek's biggest weapon. That's why he's being asked to play two positions—linebacker and defensive end.
His forced fumble and safety against N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon is one of the Vols' best examples of a pass rush in recent years, and he'll be expected to bring that kind of pressure throughout the 2014 season.
The biggest challenge for Maggitt this year is simply staying healthy. If he can avoid injuries, he could bring a new dimension to the Vols defense that has been missing since the departure of Malik Jackson in 2011.
2. Cameron Sutton
Sophomore cornerback Cameron Sutton was named a Freshman All-American by Athlon Sports for his performance in the 2013 season.
He also may be the first Tennessee player with a chance to be a full-fledged All-American since Eric Berry in 2009.
Statistically, Sutton's 2013 freshman campaign ranks right up there with Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III, who is widely considered one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.
Both produced nearly 40 tackles last season, although 34 of Sutton's were solo compared to 26 of Hargreaves'.
With another year in the system and a full spring and summer of practice under his belt, Sutton will have every chance to establish himself as the SEC's top cornerback this season.
1. Marquez North
With the departures of Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews and Texas A&M's Mike Evans to the NFL, the door to becoming the conference's best wide receiver is wide-open for Marquez North.
Although North piled up just shy of 500 receiving yards last season, he only had one touchdown grab—a catch immortalized as USA Today's Best Sports Photograph.
Despite his limited scoring production, North was clearly the Vols' best wide receiver by the time the team beat South Carolina on a last-second field goal at midseason.
A big key to his success in 2014 is Justin Worley's development as a quarterback and the success of his supporting cast at wide receiver.
If Pig Howard, Josh Malone and Von Pearson can draw the attention of opposing defensive coordinators, North should find himself with single coverage and ample opportunities to pile up receiving yards and touchdowns—provided Worley can get the ball to him accurately and on time, of course.