Tennessee Football: Week 3 Spring Practice Stock Report

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2014

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley (14) leads the Volunteers onto the field prior to an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Dave Martin

The annual Orange & White Game is eight days away, and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is cramming just about all he possibly can into the limited sessions.

With the basketball team's Sweet 16 run coming to a heartbreaking end last week, all Volunteers fans' focus shifts completely to the football field, where position battles rule the headlines.

Even though major breaking news on the four-man quarterback race is hard to come by, there was still plenty to talk about in Week 3. Let's take a look at the main storylines being churned out of Knoxville this past week.

Jones Calls Defensive Front Seven "Soft"

Many of the biggest questions entering spring revolved around the revamped offensive line, but it's the other side of the football that's causing consternation.

Tennessee's defensive line has been the biggest concern of camp. Even with star defender Curt Maggitt shifting up a level to put his hand down regularly at defensive end, the Vols haven't been able to find consistency along the line.

That's a major concern for Jones—who called his front seven "soft"—and defensive coordinator John Jancek. It was echoed by Maggitt to Volquest's Brent Hubbs (subscription required).

We didn't have a good scrimmage as a defensive line… There were a lot of things that weren't good. We are far away (from what Jones is looking for). We know the expectation, and the defense he wants and Jancek wants. Our position coaches and us know we are far from it. That's why we can't take any days off.

According to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required), the line again had "trouble stopping the run" during the team's second full scrimmage last Saturday. It's a familiar refrain from a spring filled with UT's offense one-upping the D.

The Vols will get a major boost this fall when junior Trevarris Saulsberry returns from injury that has sidelined him this spring, and vaunted recruits like Dewayne Hendrix, Charles Mosley, Michael Sawyers, Derek Barnett and Joe Henderson get to campus.

For now, DL coach Steve Stripling is trying to piece together a depth chart that offers at least some resistance. That includes athletic midterm freshman Dimarya Mixon getting an extended look at tackle, according to Callahan.

There are talented players in the rotation, but they're virtually all inexperienced. That's really shown this spring.

Hurd and Lane on Top of Their Game

It doesn't matter that rising senior tailback Marlin Lane suffered a broken bone in his hand; he's still having the kind of spring that UT coaches have been seeking since he arrived on campus.

He and star freshman Jalen Hurd each had a very strong second scrimmage last Saturday, and that's a position the coaching staff has had a difficult time pumping the brakes on praising this spring.

Jones told Volquest's John Brice (subscription required):

I think that position group is really starting to come on. Marlin's been a warrior for us. He's playing with a cast, and to have him back and get some game repetitions and game-speed reps was big for us today. Jalen Hurd continues to develop, and he needs as many reps as he can. So that was extremely productive for us.

While Jones has to be careful dumping too many accolades on his players, media members don't. Nashville's 104.5 radio personality and former 10-year UT assistant Doug Mathews had some pretty high praise for Hurd on Thursday:

Tennessee Big Three: QB Recruiting Surging

Everybody wants to know how the four quarterbacks currently on campus are faring this spring, but the biggest UT QB news of the week had to do with the future.

After failing to sign a signal-caller in the 2014 recruiting class, it's essential UT plucks at least one elite quarterback from this year's class. In a little more than a week, the Vols have gotten extremely positive news on three top targets.

  • The 247Sports Composite's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson visited Knoxville last week and told GatorBait.net (subscription required) about Butch Jones, "I believe in his dream." He went on to tell Bucknuts' Bill Kurelic (subscription required) that UT and Ohio State would "for sure" get official visits.
  • Another of UT's top targets, 6'7", 230-pound New Mexico high school standout Zach Gentry, told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan he was "blown away" by his visit to Knoxville last weekend. Gentry is expected to visit Oklahoma State and Alabama, but UT "set the bar pretty high."
  • Finally, Top247 athlete Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Blackman High is expected to choose between Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Northwestern and Ohio State on April 7, according to GoVols247. Most of his recent Crystal Ball projections on 247 have him going to UT or Auburn. While Jennings could get a shot to play QB, he is a versatile athlete who also could play several other positions.

Week 3 Big Orange Buzz

Even though there hasn't been much reported separation between the four quarterbacks, that doesn't mean Jones thinks the group has operated poorly. In fact, it's the exact opposite.

He told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that he is "very, very encouraged" with them and they're improving every day.

It may just be one of those spring fire-lighting sessions with junior college transfer left tackle Dontavius Blair, but the evidence gets clearer every day that Jones' decision to start fifth-year senior walk-on Jacob Gilliam over Blair may be more.

Gilliam has started all the practices since returning from spring break, and he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown he is treating every day with urgency:

You've got to come to work every day no matter how you feel or what it's like, and you've got to outwork somebody that obviously they've invested a lot of time and money into. That's what I just try to come with every day, knowing that at a moment's notice I could be replaced.


Tennessee held off some of the nation's top recruiting programs such as Alabama and Ole Miss to earn defensive lineman Jason Carr's signature.

Now, it may not be long until he moves to the other side of the football.

Jones told Volquest's Brent Hubbs, John Brice and Paul Fortenberry (subscription required) on Thursday that the 6'5", 300-pound Carr may be ticketed for offensive tackle.

"He still has some practices before we make that decision, but first of all it's where every individual can help you and help the team win," Jones said. "So we'll make that assessment, we'll continue evaluating him as we go."

Finally, here's a final photo that will make many UT fans cringe.


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