Tennessee Vols Football: Spring Practice at the Halfway Mark

Joel BarkerSenior Writer IApril 4, 2010

While going back through my archives from this time last year, I was stunned at the abundance of Tennessee football articles from '09 compared to my two from 2010.

Of course, I should not be stunned in the least.

Tennessee football is embarking on its second new beginning in as many years.

Except, this new beginning has been considerably more silent than the last one was. And that's by design.

Lane Kiffin's method was complete openness with the media, with his mouth, and with his motives. Tennessee football was an open book. Those of us who write about the team had plenty of material.

Some in the Knoxville media probably experienced a bit of culture shock upon learning that their seats for the first scrimmage of the spring would be located outside of Gate 17, on the curb.

But this is Derek Dooley's program now. Not Lane Kiffin's. However Dooley chooses to operate is up to him. Whether that makes life hard for writers/bloggers is no concern of his.

Luckily, we do have some scraps of information that has fallen from that lofty table.

There is reason to believe that either Matt Simms or Nick Stephens will be the starting quarterback on this team in September. Dooley has confirmed that the two are getting first-team snaps during spring practice.

Neither had a great first scrimmage, but there's little reason to believe that anyone else will factor into the race to become the starter for Tennessee in 2010.

Highly touted QB signee, Tyler Bray, is simply not big enough right now. Most say he has an incredible arm and a good quarterback IQ, but he needs to bulk up big-time to be a signal-caller in the SEC. I see a redshirt in his future.

At running back, Tauren Poole is having the spring of his dreams. A "magical" 67-yard touchdown run in the scrimmage (at least that's what we're told), has separated Poole from the pack.

Poole is the best tailback on the team. Sophomore David Oku will factor into that race, but Oku is destined for a prime role as kick/punt returner. Oku will get plenty of carries though.

The obvious question mark will be the guys that will block for both the quarterback and running backs. Five brand new starters are being groomed to lead a Tennessee offensive line that has been a strength of this program for decades.

So, if you are looking for an area to be concerned about, it's that unit.

So far, a converted defensive lineman, Victor Thomas; a true freshman, Ja'Wuan James; and a redshirt freshman, Jerquari Schofield, seem to be the most assured of a starting spot. Senior Jarrod Shaw brings some experience to the unit, and it appears Dallas Thomas will likely get the other spot.

Of course, it's only spring.

The defense is being led by sophomore safety Janzen Jackson. Freshman Jaques Smith from Ooltewah, TN, has made his presence known at defensive end as well.

His six tackles in last week's scrimmage were tied for third most on the team.

After three weeks of Derek Dooley's first spring practice at Tennessee, a picture is beginning to form regarding his first Tennessee team.

The picture may be a tad cloudy and restricted at times, but enough can be seen to let Vols fans know there is still a coach that is committed to getting Tennessee back to its rightful place in the college football landscape.

It will take more than one spring to get there, but halfway through Dooley's first, there is reason to be hopeful.