KNOXVILLE - The Vols are officially through a week of fall camp and some questions are slowly beginning to get answers.
They will practice nine times in the coming week, so there’s still plenty of time for players to make a move and questions to be answered, but here’s a look at whose stock is up or down heading into the second full week of practices.
1. Offensive line: It’s no surprise to see the veteran group performing well so far in camp, but the development of depth behind the first team has been a pleasant sight for the Vols. Interior offensive linemen Dylan Wiesman and Mack Crowder have drawn consistent praise, while redshirt junior Marques Pair is finally developing as a viable option at reserve tackle. Those are good signs for this year and beyond.
2. The true freshmen: A lack of overall depth has driven freshmen toward the top of the depth chart at multiple spots, and, thus far, many have delivered. That’s especially true at cornerback where Malik Foreman and Cameron Sutton have worked with the first and second teams and shown some early promise. Receivers Marquez North and Ryan Jenkins are also likely contributors at this point. Others, such as Wiesman and defensive lineman Jason Carr, are also moving up the depth chart.
3. Running backs: The backs had a great scrimmage on Saturday and seem to be one of the more improved units on the team. Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are set to get most of the work, but there’s a solid cast behind them in Alden Hill, Justus Pickett (who is applying for a waiver to be eligible in 2013) and Tom Smith. All have made some good plays thus far.
1. Quarterback Justin Worley: Nobody has a firm grip on the starting quarterback job yet, and that’s good news for Worley, who continues to be the default starter as the race progresses. It’s been a solid, though not spectacular, camp for Worley thus far. He’ll continue to be pushed by Nathan Peterman and the true freshmen, but, based on open practice observations, he remains the guy to beat.
2. Linebackers: A.J. Johnson – already one of the most physically intimidating players on the team – looks even better this fall and could be set for a huge year. Senior Dontavis Sapp continues to develop and looks to be an SEC-caliber player. The wildcard is Curt Maggitt, who has been limited this fall while recovering from a torn ACL. If he can return to full health, this group can be a strength.
3. Safeties: Byron Moore and LaDarrell McNeil have battled minor hamstring injuries, but Brian Randolph looks to be back close to 100-percent and the absence of the other two has given others such as Max Arnold and Jalen Reeves-Maybin a chance to develop as well. This group will need to have a big year to help make up for the lack of cornerbacks.
1. Defensive line health: The D-line has been hit hard by the injury bug. Ends Jacques Smith (thumb) and Corey Vereen (knee) will both likely miss the beginning of the season. Tackle Maurice Couch is also limping around with a calf injury. That puts more pressure on the likes of Daniel McCullers, Marlon Walls, Daniel Hood and Corey Miller as the season begins.
2. Tight ends: Brendan Downs appears to be a serviceable option, but nobody seems to be pushing him right now. Junior college transfer Woody Quinn has some athleticism, but questions about his physicality remain. A.J. Branisel and Alex Ellis have both been banged up and Justin Meredith remains a non-factor due to a lingering hamstring issue.
3. Cornerback depth: Massive attrition at this spot has left the Vols thin at cornerback. Junior Justin Coleman is having a good camp, but outside of him, the main scholarships options at the outside corner spots are newcomers Riyahd Jones, Foreman and Sutton. All three have shown promise. But relying on first-year players is always scary in the SEC. That’s just the reality for UT this year, though. Don’t be surprised if walk-ons such as Michael Williams see some action this year.
.SELL:Tackling. It was a problem that haunted the Vols in 2013 and it still isn’t where it needs to be at this point in camp.
.SELL:Catching. There are still too many drops. That should be expected, on some levels, with the lack of experience at receiver, but it has to be improved.
.BUY:Greg King’s return as a contributor: The redshirt senior has been largely forgotten after being moved to tight end last year and rarely playing, but, now back at linebacker, he’s getting a fair amount of work on special teams and as a second-team LB.
.BUY:Jacques Smith as a leader:He may be hurt, but he’s been like another coach on the field – yelling out instructions and helping out the younger players.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga