If on-field momentum is real, Tennessee's got it. The Vols ended the 2015 season on a six-game winning streak that included a demolition of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl in front of an orange-clad crowd at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. After a third consecutive Top 20 recruiting class for Butch Jones and the addition to key players, spring practice begins Tennessee's preparation for a serious SEC championship run in 2016. Jones' squad will be the favorites to take home the Eastern Division crown, and spring practice serves as the first step in that lofty goal and how the team with 17 returning starters from a 9-4 season handles growing expectations.
What 2 Watch 4: Vols Spring Practice 2016
Danny ParkerThis will be the first chance to see two new coaches grace the sidelines of Haslam Field as Tennessee. After Butch Jones parted ways with John Jancek, the fourth-year Vols coach snatched up one of the biggest splashes of the offseason in former Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Shoop enters his first season in Knoxville with some of the best talent he's ever been able to get his hands on at the college ranks. The first-year Vols coordinator has made it known he'll be aggressive and intense while he gets a feel for his personnel, which returns All-SEC contenders like Derek Barnett, Cam Sutton and Jalen-Reeves Maybin. That nucleus coupled with depth at defensive end will give Shoop options as he tailors his scheme around his new players. New tight ends coach Larry Scott, who's already made his name known on the recruiting trail, will join Shoop as a new face.
Photo by Danny ParkerDespite the roster returning 17 starters, there are plenty of players who will get a crack at competing for playing time during the spring. Defensive back Rashaan Gaulden returns after missing 2015 with a broken foot and presumes to compete for a spot in the rotation at safety or nickelback. Coaches raved about Gaulden's play before his injury in fall camp and he'll need to step up with the graduation of starters Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil. With Kyler Kerbyson graduated, redshirt freshman Drew Richmond will receive a chance to audition at left tackle with Kyler Kerbyson gone. The Vols return 71 combined starts on the O-line but don't have a firm left tackle in tact and Richmond will get his opportunity to compete for the job this spring with Brett Kendrick and Chance Hall. Quarté Sapp will have his chance to shine as well, and Venzell Boulware has a shot at making his presence felt on the offensive line this spring along with Richmond as opportunites present themselves on both sides of the ball.
Danny ParkerTennessee finished No. 92 in the NCAA last season in passing yards per game with an average of just 198. The leading wide receiver, Von Pearson, caught just three touchdowns on the season and no wideout averaged more than 32 yards per game. The passing game was bolstered — and sometimes bailed out — by a dynamic rushing attack featuring 1,000-yard back Jalen Hurd and his shifty counterpart Alvin Kamara. If the Vols want to compete for an SEC championship, the passing game has to become more of a threat, and it will be interesting to see what new wrinkles offensive coordinator Mike DeBord inserts to hep his returning senior quarterback turn in a more productive role in the air.
Danny ParkerMike DeBord put Joshua Dobbs under center multiple times during the Outback Bowl, helping Jalen Hurd rumble up the middle while also freeing up the tight end for nice gains up the seam on the play-action pass. DeBord told InsideTennessee in February that giving Dobbs more snaps in the I-formation is something they will put on the table heading into spring practice, so we'll get a look at if that wrinkle will become a trend.
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