As college football enters the second quarter of its year-round season—National Signing Day is the first—fans across the nation are getting excited about the biggest tease the sport has to offer: spring football.
It's a tease because of the endless coverage of players practicing and scrimmaging against each other. ESPN covers multiple spring games every year on national television. There are daily updates from every college football scribe at every spring practice in the country.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than at the University of Tennessee.
Fans of the Vols already have their clothes picked out for the spring game on Saturday, April 16. (Hint: They're going to wear orange from head to toe.)
This Tennessee spring practice is different from recent years, however.
For starters, the Vols have the same head coach and largely the same coaching staff they had last season. This is the first spring practice since 2008 to have that distinction.
Another unique aspect of this year's spring practice is the abundance of youth mixed with the lack of seniors on this Tennessee team.
During Derek Dooley's annual spring kickoff press conference, the head coach mentioned that there are only three seniors projected in the two-deep chart this spring—running back Tauren Poole, defensive lineman Malik Jackson and linebacker Austin Johnson.
Dooley told reporters, "I think we only have nine seniors...I've never been on a team that has that small of a senior class."
While a lack of seniors could be a hurdle to overcome in terms of leadership, Dooley seems to think that sort of thing can be learned.
"I think you have to promote it, teach it, and I think that you have to empower everybody to be a leader," said Dooley. "It’s really, to me, more about team chemistry. The more you get everybody together in sync, working for a common purpose, then it’s easier to forge leadership and team chemistry.”
The greater emphasis this spring will be on turning the young, talented athletes into solid SEC football players.
The second-year SEC head coach lists that as one of the many challenges facing this team in 2011.
Dooley said, “You look at some of the key questions coming out of the spring but the biggest thing is can our freshmen, who energized our team a little bit, become dependable, every-down contributors in the SEC.
"I think that’s a big jump from being excited about a player as a freshman and then turning them into every-down starters who can help you compete for a championship. That’s probably our biggest challenge for the spring."
Dooley's remarks made it quite clear that this team will be much different than his first was. There are challenges ahead. It takes longer than a year or two to rebuild a once-proud program from the ground up.
While the obstacles may be many and the hurdles tall for this Tennessee team, one fact still energizes this loyal fanbase. After nearly four months of no football, it will be great to see those orange jerseys and white helmets emblazoned with the orange power T streaming into Neyland Stadium again.