KNOXVILLE – Tennessee released its preseason depth chart on Tuesday and there are a few surprises heading into the first practice on Friday.
As a general reminder, these shouldn’t be taken too seriously and will likely change many times before the season opener against Austin Peay on Aug. 31, but they do give some insight into how the coaching staff views certain players and positions.
Here’s the complete depth chart, followed by some notes and observations for each side of the ball:
QB: 1. Justin Worley OR Nathan Peterman
RB: 1. Rajion Neal 2. Alden Hill
TE: 1. Brendan Downs 2. Joseph Ayres 3. Woody Quinn
Slot WR: 1. Pig Howard 2. Devrin Young
WR: 1. Cody Blanc 2. Paul Harris OR Marquez North
WR: 1. Jason Croom 2. Vincent Dallas
LT: 1. Tiny Richardson 2. Brett Kendrick
LG: 1. Alex Bullard 2. Marcus Jackson
C: 1. James Stone 2. Mack Crowder
RG: 1. Zach Fulton 2. Kyler Kerbyson
RT: 1. Ja’Wuan James 2. Kyler Kerbyson
. No huge surprise, but quarterback is the only starting position that has co-starters. Coach Butch Jones has been adamant about not naming a starter at that position through the spring and summer, so why start now? The freshmen aren’t listed, but they’ll get their chance to earn their way on it.
. Alden Hill at backup running back is somewhat of a surprise. He had a solid spring, but Marlin Lane has more experience. Lane was away from the team for awhile this spring and summer, so Jones might want to make sure he comes back 100-percent focused before handing him a spot.
. Nothing stunning at receiver – Pig Howard, Cody Blanc and Jason Croom all performed well in the spring. Veteran Jacob Carter’s omission is somewhat surprising, but he’s been slowed by an ankle injury.
. The offensive line is pretty straightforward with Alex Bullard holding the edge at left guard over Marcus Jackson being the only important note. True freshman Brett Kendrick passed some veterans up to be named the second-team left tackle. It looks like Kyler Kerbyson will be the utility backup - he’s listed as second-team right guard and tackle.
DE: 1. Jacques Smith 2. Jordan Williams
DE: 1. Marlon Walls 2. Corey Miller
DT: 1. Daniel McCullers 2. Maurice Couch
DT: 1. Daniel Hood 2. Danny O’Brien
WLB: 1. Dontavis Sapp 2. Kenny Bynum
MLB: 1. A.J. Johnson 2. Christian Harris
SLB: 1. Brent Brewer 2. Curt Maggitt
CB: 1. Justin Coleman 2. Malik Foreman
CB: 1. Riyahd Jones 2. Cameron Sutton
NB: 1. Jaron Toney 2. Geraldo Orta
SS: 1. LaDarrell McNeil 2. Byron Moore
FS: 1. Brian Randolph 2. Max Arnold
. The D-line is as expected with the exception of Daniel Hood starting at one DT spot and Maurice Couch being listed with the second team. Most thought those two would be switched. Six of the top eight defensive linemen on this depth chart are seniors.
. Dontavis Sapp and A.J. Johnson were the expected starters at linebacker, but Brent Brewer starting over Curt Maggitt is surprising. Again, injury might play a factor here with Maggitt missing spring practice. It might be hard for Jones to list a player as a starter that he hasn’t seen practice at full speed yet.
. Justin Coleman and Riyahd Jones left spring as the top corners and that has stayed the same. Freshmen Malik Foreman and Cameron Sutton start as their immediate backups due to a lack of depth there. No surprise with Jaron Toney starting at nickel in place of the absent Eric Gordon. Geraldo Orta has worked at safety in the past, but is listed as Toney’s backup.
. Perhaps the biggest surprise on defense is sophomore LaDarrell McNeil being listed as the starter over Byron Moore. Moore is tied for the lead among returning SEC players with five interceptions last year, though McNeil also has starting experience after filling in for the injured Brian Randolph last year. McNeil said in the spring that it was like the Vols have three starters at safety, but at least for now, it’s he and Randolph getting the nod.
K: 1. Michael Palardy 2. George Bullock
P: 1. Michael Palardy 2. Matt Darr
KOS: 1. Michael Palardy 2. George Bullock
LS: 1. J.R. Carr 2. Matt Giampapa
PR: 1. Devrin Young 2. Pig Howard
KR: 1. Devrin Young 2. Pig Howard
H: 1. Tyler Drummer 2. Matt Darr
Special teams notes:
. The most obvious note is Michael Palardy starting at every kicking position. That’ll likely be the case all year unless he’s injured or one of the others steps up. Redshirt freshman George Bullock, not junior Derrick Brodus, is listed as his backup at kicker.
. Devrin Young and Pig Howard have a lot of experience in the return game in practice and in live action, so they make sense as the starters there to begin. Expect many of the newcomers to get a chance to show what they can do in the return game as well this fall.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga