KNOXVILLE – Perhaps the most exciting thing on Saturday during the annual Orange and White Game will be UT’s new space-age looking hovercraft camera that flies above the field and gives high-angle shots.
The new high-tech gadget has been buzzing over practices this week and might make an appearance Saturday.
On the field, head coach Butch Jones has done a solid job rallying support for the program this spring, but an injury-riddled roster, limited installation and a desire to keep facets of the new system under wraps. could keep UT stuck to the basics on Saturday.
“We don’t want to show every wrinkle,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bajajkian, who estimated that about half of the entire offense has been installed to this point. “The key for us is really the same key that we have had since the first day of spring ball.
“We are going to come in with a package that we want to execute, play hard, play with great tempo, play fast. We are about effort, tempo, and finishing. That is what we are looking for on Saturday.”
It’ll be an especially big challenge for the wide receivers. A young and thin group already, that unit is expected to be without Jason Croom, Paul Harris and Jacob Carter on Saturday due to injury.
That leaves Vincent Dallas, Drae Bowles, Devrin Young and Pig Howard as the only healthy scholarship receivers for the time being.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, more than I thought we would have,” said wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
With so few scholarship receivers available, Saturday will be a chance for some normally seldom-used walk ons to make a move. Last year, Carter, who was a walk on at the time, hauled in six receptions for 42 yards in the spring game, propelling him to a spot in the rotation in 2012 and all the way to potential starter in 2013.
Could another similar situation occur?
“I think Sam Cranford has done a nice job,” Azzanni said of the 6-4, 190-pound walk-on redshirt freshman from Nashville. “He’s actually probabye one of our most consistent receivers right now. He got thrown in the fire when he didn’t think he was going to and I’m pleased with the way he’s responded.”
Cranford lined up with the starting receivers on Thursday and might be among the first on the field when the lights come on at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Despite some of the limitations on offense, Jones and players have made a plea to fans to pack Neyland on Saturday.
“I think it sends a message in a lot of regards,” Jones said of the potential for a big crowd. “First and foremost, we do have the best fan base in the country and the most passionate fan base in the country. We need to continue to make Neyland Stadium a home-field advantage. Anytime we get to compete in that venue, it is special.”
“I just think it will go a long way toward showing everyone around the program that with this new coaching staff everyone has bought in and is believing,” added safety Byron Moore. “It also shows the recruits how big of an importance our fans put on the spring game”.
Injuries/absences: It was the regular group of injured players on Thursday. Harris, Carter, Croom, defensive tackle Maurice Couch, defensive tackle Daniel Hood, safety Jalen Reeves-Maybin, tackle Tiny Richardson, tight end Brendan Downs, tight end Justin Meredith, corner Riyahd Jones and linebacker Curt Maggitt were all held out.
Of that group, it appears that only Jones has a good shot at playing Saturday. Offensive lineman Zach Fulton was also held out Thursday, but Mahoney said it was just a precautionary move and he’ll be fine for Saturday.
Running back Marlin Lane and cornerback Eric Gordon remained out of practice. It would be a surprise if either played Saturday.
. With Fulton being held out, Kyler Kerbyson worked as the starting right guard during practice Thursday.
. The team walked through pre-game procedures on Thursday. One of the things the Vols will do on Saturday is walk in two circles side-by-side and high five teammates.
. Mahoney said that reserve walk-on lineman Jacob Gilliam has stood out this spring and should get some work with the second team on Saturday.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga