KNOXVILLE – It’s still early. There have been only six practices in the Butch Jones era at Tennessee, but with the team wrapping up a week away from practice for spring break, it’s a good time to look back at who has stood out early and who needs to show more in the final nine spring practices.
In total, the staff seems to be pleased with the direction the teams is heading this spring.
“Our guys are getting a very good understanding of what we want out of the tempo and effort level of practice,” offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said before the team was dismissed for spring break. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re seeing gradual progress through each practice.”
Some individuals have caught on quicker than others, though. Based on observation and/or comments from coaches and players through six practices, here’s our early spring stock watch which will be updated after spring practice concludes on April 20.
1. WR Cody Blanc: As a true freshman, Blanc saw the field, but didn’t record any catches. Now he’s lining up with the first-team offense and has made several big plays. The offensive staff has been complimentary of his development and it looks like he’s on his way to being a significant contributor in 2013.
2. QB Justin Worley: There’s no clear-cut starter yet, but when the first team takes the field during open practice, it’s normally Worley who is taking the snaps. Nobody is confusing him for a scrambler, but he moves better than some expected and seems to have a strong early grasp on Bajakian’s scheme.
3. OL Alex Bullard: Left guard was the only offensive line spot up for grabs, and it appears Bullard, a redshirt senior, is beating out junior Marcus Jackson for it. He’s still versatile, though. With left tackle Tiny Richardson limited this spring, Bullard has also seen some snaps at his spot.
4. WR Devrin Young: He’s still raw at his new position, but he’s gone from seldom-used running back to potential starting slot wide receiver. The staff seems to really like his potential there.
5. DE Marlon Walls: The senior has found his niche as the strong-side defensive end in the new 4-3 defense. Expect him to be the starter there for the rest of spring and head into the fall on top of the depth chart.
1. TE Justin Meredith: He can’t stay healthy. A lingering hamstring issue kept him off the field in 2012. Now, with the starting tight end spot open, he’s still not regularly practicing at full speed. Brendan Downs is getting the starting reps and walk-on Alex Ellis is moving up the depth chart as well while Meredith watches.
2. WR Drae Bowles: It’s still early, but the former four-star recruit hasn’t made much of a move up the depth chart yet. The redshirt freshman is working primarily with the second team thus far. He’s got the physical tools to be a productive SEC receiver. He just needs to be more consistent.
3. CB Eric Gordon: It’s hard to boost your stock when you’re not there. Gordon is currently away from the team for an indefinite amount of time, according to Jones. He’s been sighted watching practice, but for now, Jaron Toney is taking the first-team reps at nickel.
4. RBs Tom Smith/Alden Hill: Even with Young’s transition to receiver, neither seems to be close to taking any reps from Rajion Neal or Marlin Lane. Depth at running back is a concern going forward.
5. P Matt Darr: After being phased out as the starting punter last year, it doesn’t appear that he’s on the verge of reclaiming the starting duties. Ideally, Michael Palardy wouldn’t have to handle all the kicking and punting duties, but that might be the case.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga