KNOXVILLE – The offense beat the defense 129-100 in Saturday’s Orange and White Game to officially wrap up spring practice.
Here are some position-by-position grades:
This group looked good. It’s still unclear who will be the starter, but it appears that the Vols will be able to upgrade this position regardless who wins the four-man battle. Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs, specifically, improved their stock. Dobbs was 6 of 9 for 199 yards, three touchdowns and added 59 yards and a score on the ground. Worley got the job done as well, completing 11 of 13 for 151 yards and also showed some wheels – running twice for 55 yards. The most concerning part for the QBs was the play of Riley Ferguson, who threw an interception, lost a fumble and held on to the ball too long on multiple occasions. It seemed that Ferguson and Worley were separating in the race, but with Dobbs’ performance Saturday considered, it could be more of a three-man race with Nathan Peterman a little behind the main pack heading into summer.
Running backs: B-
They weren’t flashy, but the backs, led by freshman Jalen Hurd, were productive. Hurd ran hard and gained 66 yards and scored a touchdown on 11 carries for an average of 6.0 yards per carry. Marlin Lane scored as well, though he finished with just 22 yards on nine carries. Backups Alden Hill and Devrin Young, who both showed some flashes this spring, combined for just 19 yards on eight attempts. The spring game showed what was already somewhat assumed – Lane and Hurd will carry the load next year with the others, in addition to the newcomers, battling for snaps behind them.
Wide receivers/tight ends: A+
Welcome to college football, Josh Malone. The early enrollee looked more like a senior in college rather than a senior in high school with six catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns, showing why the coaches have been working him with the starters the last couple weeks of spring. Sophomore Marquez North was impressive as well, hauling in five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown. Combine those two with Von Pearson, who showed some shifty moves in the slot, and the Vols have the makings of an impressive group of receivers next year. There’ssome depth there as well, with Josh Smith catching four passes Saturday and Jason Croom, Cody Blanc and Johnathon Johnson all wrapping up a spring where they made some progress.
After the position all but disappeared for stretches of last season, the Vols have a chance to get some production from the tight end this year. Led by Ethan Wolf, who made a couple nice grabs, the tight ends had four total catches Satruday, and with Brendan Downs and A.J. Branisel back in the mix in the fall, there will be a lot of depth there.
Offensive line: B
There wasn’t a ton of push in the run game, but for a unit undergoing a massive overhaul, there were some positive signs on Saturday. Though it did give up four sacks, the line also held up well enough to let the quarterbacks throw for 514 yards. And while a lot of the yards came from a couple huge runs, an average of 4.8 yards per carry in the run game was also a good sign for the O-line.
Defensive line: C-
The ends got to the QBs – especially Ferguson – a few times, but it wasn’t a great effort overall up front. A thin group of defensive tackles held its own in the middle, but there wasn’t much disruption. This group will be bolstered by the return of Trevarris Saulsberry from injury and an influx of talented newcomers over the summer. It remains to be seen if it can hold up regularly in the SEC, however.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who had a strong spring, had a solid day, recording seven tackles. He’s well on his way to locking down one of the starting jobs. Veteran A.J. Johnson played limited snaps. The Vols know what he can do – there was no reason to overwork him. That gave reserves such as Kenny Bynum, Colton Jumper, Neiko Creamer and Justin King a chance to get plenty of action. Finding depth at that position will still be a work in progress over the summer.
It was a tough day for the defensive backs. The receivers had their way for much of the afternoon. The coverage was thin and the tackling was, overall, poor. Malik Foreman, who worked at nickelback, had the lone interception on the day. Corners Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, who both had good springs, each got burned at least once. The return of safety Brian Randolph and several newcomers will be a welcomed sight for this group.
Special teams: Incomplete
Special teams weren’t live, but punter Matt Darr and kickers Derrick Brodus and George Bullock did their jobs. Darr averaged 46.6 yards per punt, but is still looking for consistency. Bullock hit the lone field goal attempt, a 41-yarder, and Bullock and Brodus also combined to hit all nine extra point attempts.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga