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Tennessee Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

Reid AkinsContributor IISeptember 3, 2014

Tennessee Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Team 118 of the Tennessee Volunteers kicked off the 2014 season with a resounding 38-7 win over the Utah State Aggies Sunday night. 

    The Vols had no problem limiting quarterback Chuckie Keeton and completely shutting down the Utah State offense. In fact, they were well on their way toward a shutout before a busted coverage in the fourth quarter allowed the Aggies to finally put seven points on the board. 

    What makes the blowout all the more impressive is the fact that Tennessee started an incredible 15 newcomers on offense, defense and special teams.

    In a night with that many newcomers, there are bound to be serious mistakes. However, Tennessee's coaches did a fantastic job of managing their young players, keeping their emotions in check and limiting penalties and mental mistakes.

    Here's a report card breakdown of every new Tennessee starter who took the field Sunday night. 

Ethan Wolf, TE

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Week 1 Stats: Three catches for 26 yards

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    The highlight of Ethan Wolf's night came in the first quarter when he caught a 12-yard pass for a first down. He later had a grab that appeared to be a fumble but was later ruled to be a catch, as the ball came out after he was down. 

    Wolf also delivered some great blocks throughout the night to keep Utah State's defensive line at bay. Overall, it wasn't an outstanding debut for the freshman, but it was a solid building block for his future at Tennessee.

     

    Grade: B

Von Pearson, WR

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Week 1 Stats: Three catches, 27 yards, one touchdown

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Von Pearson's SEC debut was topped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Justin Worley. Although Pearson was set up nicely to turn the screen pass into a short gain, his juke on a Utah State defender allowed him to cruise straight into the end zone.

    Pearson proved Sunday that he not only has excellent hands as a wide receiver but the elusiveness to make plays in space. He's certainly one player to watch as Tennessee moves into the meat of its schedule. 

     

    Grade: A

Jacob Gilliam, LT

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Week 1 Stats: N/A

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Redshirt senior and former walk-on Jacob Gilliam got the first start of his career Sunday night. After an admirable performance at left tackle, Gilliam went down with a knee injury during the game.

    A medical evaluation later determined he tore his anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the season.

    It's a tough break for one of the Vols' biggest success stories, but it doesn't take away from the fact that he played well before suffering that devastating injury. 

     

    Grade: B

Marcus Jackson, LG

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Week 1 Stats: N/A

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Redshirt junior Marcus Jackson is the Vols' most experienced offensive lineman, but he still was beaten a few times Sunday night.

    Whether that's due to a stouter-than-expected Utah State defensive line or to Jackson underperforming remains to be seen, but he has plenty of time to correct any mistakes in his technique before the Vols begin SEC play.

     

    Grade: C-

Mack Crowder, C

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Week 1 Stats: N/A

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    The good news is that center Mack Crowder didn't send any snaps flying over quarterback Justin Worley's head. The bad news is his offensive line gave up two sacks. 

    Like Jackson, Crowder has a decent amount of experience on the line and will progress as the season continues. 

     

    Grade: C+

Jashon Robertson, RG

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Week 1 Stats: N/A

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    A true freshman, Jashon Robertson played about as well as can be expected for an 18-year-old making his college football debut.

    Robertson held his own against Utah State's older and more experienced defensive line all night. His performance wasn't mistake-free, and he clearly was beaten on a few plays, but avoiding disaster is a win for such a young and inexperienced player. 

     

    Grade: B+

Kyler Kerbyson, RT

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Week 1 Stats: N/A

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    I hate to pick on redshirt junior Kyler Kerbyson, but his back-to-back false-start penalties killed one of Tennessee's offensive drives and ultimately may have prevented the Vols from putting the game away even earlier than they did.

    Due to those penalties, Kerbyson was the weak link in a mediocre performance for the offensive line. But luckily for him, it's only the first game of the season, and those mental mistakes will become less and less likely as the season marches forward. 

     

    Grade: D-

Corey Vereen, DE

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Week 1 Stats: One tackle

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    After a promising freshman season, Corey Vereen started at left defensive end for the Vols against Utah State.

    Although he recorded only one tackle, he frequently pressured Chuckie Keeton and either forced him out of the pocket or caused him to make bad throws. 

    Vereen will be a weapon for the Vols moving forward, even if his debut as a starter didn't light up the stats sheet. 

     

    Grade: B-

Jordan Williams, DT

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Week 1 Stats: One tackle for a loss

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Senior Jordan Williams packed on 24 pounds since 2013 in order to play defensive tackle this season. His efforts paid off, as he's now a starting interior lineman next to Danny O'Brien.

    Williams had one of the biggest plays of the night on defense when he tackled Utah State's running back in the backfield on an attempt to convert 4th-and-1. Although the stop didn't directly lead to any Tennessee points, it helped set the tone for the Vols defense for the rest of the night. 

     

    Grade: B+

Danny O'Brien, DT

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Week 1 Stats: One tackle for a loss

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Williams and Danny O'Brien had near identical performances against Utah State. Both players helped stuff the run, put pressure on quarterback Chuckie Keeton and had a single tackle for a loss.

    Although neither had outings that stand out on paper, both disrupted the Aggies' offensive line and dominated the line of scrimmage. You can't ask for much more than that out of a defensive lineman.  

     

    Grade: B+

Derek Barnett, DE

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Week 1 Stats: One solo tackle, two tackle assists

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Derek Barnett arrived at Tennessee in the summer and quickly became a favorite among the coaching staff. His raw talent led to him being named the first ever true freshman to start on Tennessee's defensive line.

    Like Vereen, Barnett managed to blow past the Utah State offensive line several times and into the backfield to send Keeton scrambling. Although he didn't record a sack, he did get one solo tackle and two assisted tackles. 

    Barnett is likely a four-year starter on the line for Tennessee, and his first outing as a Vol was a success. 

     

    Grade: B+

Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Week 1 Stats: Five solo tackles, five tackle assists

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    After making a name for himself as a special teams ace during the 2013 season, Jalen Reeves-Maybin was promoted to starting weak-side linebacker for the 2014 season. 

    His debut game as a starter went very well, as he piled up five solo tackles and five tackle assists before the night was over. Playing next to senior All-SEC linebacker A.J. Johnson will only help Reeves-Maybin become even more efficient later in the season. 

     

    Grade: A

Devaun Swafford, SS

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Week 1 Stats: N/A

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Like Jacob Gilliam, Devaun Swafford earned a scholarship during the offseason due to his exceptional play as a walk-on in 2013, which included a pick-six at Florida and a blocked punt return for a touchdown against Georgia.

    Now, as the team's starting strong safety, Swafford has the chance to become a star in the Tennessee defensive backfield.

    However, he didn't contribute much against Utah State—at least on paper. In fact, his stat sheet for the night is empty. But that doesn't mean he wasn't involved in the game, as his presence and coverage helped prevent Keeton from finding a groove with his receivers. 

     

    Grade: C

Matt Darr, P

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Week 1 Stats: Eight punts for 298 yards, 37.3 yard average per punt 

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Darr was named the starting punter to replace Michael Palardy, and his first outing in that role since 2012 was successful.

    He boomed one 53-yard punt, and while his 37.3 yard average doesn't sound very impressive, he also punted on a short field several times when Tennessee's offense sputtered after crossing the 50-yard line. 

    In a scary moment late in the game, a Utah State defender collided with Darr after a punt, causing Darr's foot to roll under his ankle. Luckily for Darr and the Vols, he walked off the field under his own power and should be healthy for next week's matchup with Arkansas State. 

     

    Grade: A

Aaron Medley, K

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Week 1 Stats: One 36-yard field goal, five extra points made, seven kickoffs for 407 yards, 58.1 yard average per kickoff

     

    Breaking Down His Performance

    Freshman Aaron Medley was touted as one of Tennessee's best kickers in years, but his first field-goal attempt against Utah State was way off the mark.

    However, Medley got another chance from the right hash mark not long afterward, and he managed to send a 36-yard field goal straight through the uprights with distance to spare. 

    He also handled kickoff duty fairly well, averaging 58.1 yards per kick. He didn't quite blast them to the brick wall at the back of the end zone—also known as "Medley's Wall," according to Wes Rucker at 247Sports—but he got decent distance and hang time on his kicks and didn't kick any balls out of bounds.

     

    Grade: A-

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