SEC Football: 13 Questions Heading into Tennessee Vols' Spring Practice
Every program has questions that carryover from one season to another. But when a program is elbows deep in rebuilding mode, those questions tend to take on much greater importance.
Tennessee is certainly one of those rebuilding programs.
Here are some of the biggest questions facing head coach Derek Dooley in Knoxville, as spring practice gets underway.
How Much Has the Offensive Line Progressed?
The Vols young offensive line was miserable at times last season. 2011 should be different, since most of that line returns this season with a year of experience under its belt.
If the line struggles or injuries begin to mount this spring, Vols fans should be worried.
Will Matt Simms Continue to Back Up Tyler Bray at Quarterback?
Matt Simms didn't take being replaced by true freshman Bray, too well. But how would Phil's son take a demotion to third string in his senior season?
Chances are that simply won't happen. But given the hype surrounding talented incoming freshman Justin Worley, would anyone be that surprised if it did?
Can Anyone Replace Janzen Jackson?
Replace Janzen Jackson? Can't happen. Jackson was the most talented player on the team last season. His brain-rattling hits and electrifying interceptions have become an integral part to Tennessee's young, depth-less defense.
Jackson is definitely out for the spring due to his withdrawal from school in February. But finding an adequate option to, at least temporarily, replace him would be an answer to Derek Dooley's prayers.
Has Tyler Bray Grown Up at All?
Yes, that means physically and mentally. Bray needed to add some bulk to his 6'6", 190-plus-pound frame, but his disgusting show of unsportsmanlike behavior during the Music City Bowl turned many big orange backers off.
Bray will also have to begin learning how to play quarterback this coming spring. Dropping back and throwing bombs every down will only take you so far.
Is Wide Receiver U Back?
When guys like Alvin Harper, Carl Pickens and Joey Kent lined up outside, coaches feared the Vols passing game. During the struggles of the Vols recent past, it seemed the old moniker of Wide Receiver U had come to an unfortunate end.
With incredibly talented athletes like Da'Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter and Matt Milton -- all sophomores in 2011 -- Wide Receiver U could be on the verge of a stunning rebirth.
Does Anyone Want to Return Punts?
The Vols punt return game was about as close to dreadful as it could have possibly been last year. Whether it was Eric Gordon coughing the ball up versus Georgia, or the combined 73 positive yards on 18 punt returns, this part of the Vols special teams was a mess.
Seeing that futility continue this spring will not sit well with anyone wearing orange.
Is Depth on the Defensive Line Still a Concern?
Well, there's yes and then there's heck yes. Take your pick.
The Vols lost would-be fifth year senior Ben Martin to another achilles tear just a few weeks ago. That pretty much leaves the Vols scrambling for a couple of big bodies this spring.
With Corey Miller and Jacques Smith on the ends and Malik Jackson and Montori Hughes at tackle, the starters on this line could be as talented as any the Vols have had.
But Dooley needs Marlon Walls, Willie Bohannon and company to hold down the fort until reinforcements (incoming freshman and juco transfers) arrive for fall camp.
Is Michael Palardy Ready to Kick Full-Time?
Life with Daniel Lincoln at kicker was up and down to say the least.
Unfortunately, it was down for much of his final two seasons in Knoxville. But Michael Palardy, the No. 1 prep kicker in the country in 2009 according to rivals.com, offers some hope as Lincoln's replacement.
Palardy was mainly used on kickoffs last season, but the job is all his in 2011. Big orange fans everywhere hope he can keep the ball up more often than not, unlike his predecessor.
Will Mychal Rivera Make Vols Fan Forget About Luke Stocker?
As big a leadership role as Luke Stocker played on the team, it will take more than equal talent between the lines to replace him. But Mychal Rivera should have at least one of those aspects covered.
Rivera is a good pass-catcher and has some decent experience after catching 11 passes for 112 yards in 2010.
Will the Vols Find Consistency on the Ground?
At times last season, the Vols running game looked great. At other times, not so much.
Tauren Poole is definitely a home run hitter in the Vols backfield. That was proven by his many explosive runs in games against Alabama, Oregon, and Memphis.
It just seemed like if Poole didn't hit the home run, the Vols struggled to move the ball and eventually abandoned the run. That won't work in 2011. The Vols need consistency from both Poole and sophomore Rajion Neal.
Who Will Replace Nick Reveiz as the Quarterback of the Defense?
The graduation of Nick Reveiz, the heart and soul of this defense, leaves a hole in the middle of the defense. Luckily, Herman Lathers has some experience at the position after filling in for Reveiz in '09, when the middle linebacker tore his ACL.
The Vols have plenty of talent at linebacker as it stands. Austin Johnson, a healthy Greg King and Raicques Crump will help provide some stability at the position.
Can Tennessee Avoid the Injury Bug the Decimated the Ranks Last Year?
It seemed like there was a depth-depleting injury every day during the spring and fall practice sessions last year. Whether it was Ben Martin and Marlon Walls shredding their achilles on consecutive days, or the dismissal of starting safety Darren Myles for his role in the bar fight incident, the Vols were destined to work with little depth.
The Vols need to stay as injury free as possible this time around while hoping that the offseason itch to find trouble doesn't come calling.
How Big a Role Will the Early Enrollees Play This Spring?
Some of the six early enrollees of the 2011 signing class should get a shot at some valuable practice time later this month. Justin Coleman, the lone defensive back among early enrollees, figures to get plenty of opportunity to make an impression as the Vols are short on defensive backs this spring.
Wide receiver Vincent Dallas and 2010's Gatorade Player of the Year, quarterback Justin Worley are sure to get plenty of reps this spring as well.