By Alex Norman
Folks, it is ok that you are going through football withdrawl. I get it. I’m right there with you.
The good news is that this week, football is back!
Well, kind of.
Tennessee will hold its first of 15 spring practices on Tuesday, March 21st. Spring football will conclude with the annual Orange & White Game on Saturday, April 22nd. After that scrimmage there won’t be a hint of football until August, so enjoy it while you can.
Let’s take a look at the key story lines heading into the spring. The answers that the Vols come up with will go a long ways towards determining whether 2017 is a successful season for Tennessee.
The biggest question obviously is who will replace Joshua Dobbs as the Vols starting quarterback. Dobbs went 23-12 as a starter, including 3 bowl game victories. He accounted for 9360 total yards of offense and a combined 86 touchdowns.
With all reverence to the high energy Sheriron Jones, that quarterback competition will be a two man battle between junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano.
Dormady has played in 10 games during his Tennessee career as Dobbs’ backup. He chose the Vols over Alabama back in 2015, has a strong right arm and is a pro-style weapon for Butch Jones. Guarantano doesn’t lack in confidence, and appears ready to challenge for the starting spot. A former 4-star recruit out of New Jersey, Guarantano is a true dual threat option.
Both guys have very good size (each is listed at 6’4”). Dormady is heavier and perhaps better able to withstand the physical nature of the SEC, while Guarantano is the quicker of the two, and will likely be able to avoid contact easier. Dormady is the only quarterback on the roster to have actually played in college (24 of 39 for 357 yards and one TD over the last two seasons).
There is a very good chance that spring football ends without a starter being named for the opener against Georgia Tech on September 4th in Atlanta. And you can expect to see both quarterbacks play significant minutes in 2017 regardless of who gets the call first. Tennessee had a luxury in Dobbs for the past two seasons. We’ll find out if Dormady/Guarantano can pick up the slack in his absence.
So who will they be throwing the football towards? Remember that Josh Malone left early for the NFL draft, taking his 104 career catches with him. Malone emerged as a deep threat, a need that can’t be overlooked. The good news is that Jauan Jennings is set to take over the number one receiver slot. After that there are a lot of question marks that we will try to get answers to this spring.
Can Josh Smith stay healthy? Will sophomores Marquez Callaway and Brandon Johnson take the next step? Will Tyler Byrd stay on the offensive side of the football or will he be moved into the secondary? And what ever happened to Jeff George, who arrived from JUCO a year ago with a nice amount of hype.
This spring will be huge for a wide receiving corps with more uncertainly than sure things.
At running back the Vols say goodbye to Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd. The former to the NFL, the latter to… well… we aren’t really sure just yet. This spring junior John Kelly will get most of the snaps, while sophomore Carlin Fils-aime hopes a solid spring will help separate himself from incoming 4-star recruit Ty Chandler, who gets to campus this June.
On the offensive line Tennessee will be an experienced group, so this spring will be important for 5-star early enrollee Trey Smith. Should these 15 practices go well Smith could be in line not only for playing time, but for a starting spot in 2017.
On defense the biggest question is how to you replace Derek Barnett and his 33 career sacks, a program record. This spring Jonathon Kongbo will try to prove that he can fill that pass rushing role, despite underwhelming fans in his first season in Knoxville. In fairness Kongbo was called upon to play tackle due to injuries, not his strongest position. Kyle Phillips has had an injury filled career but also will be needed
In the secondary Cam Sutton has graduated. This spring keep an eye on sophomore Baylen Buchanan to take a run at earning that starting cornerback slot.
At linebacker Quart’e Sapp will try to prove he is healthy enough and Daniel Bituli will try to prove he is prepared enough to get playing time in the fall.
Look, we all want football. Spring football isn’t really football.
But pickers can’t be choosers.