Spring Step-Up: Who's filling in for injured Vols?

Injuries are a part of life on the gridiron. While Tennessee has players recovering from a grueling 2016 season, several Volunteers will have an opportunity to open the eyes of coaches this spring.

Anti-gravity treadmill. Aquatic therapy. Mental repetitions. Ultrasound.

Much of March and April is laid out for football players before they even go under the knife to have body parts repaired. They have to avoid atrophy and regain balance long before they can strap on pads and get back to popping.

Tennessee has a double-digit number of players that isn't available to practice this spring. While they’re clocking in to get back to health, other Volunteers will have the chance to open the eyes of coaches during these five weeks.

Butch Jones listed eight players Monday that won’t participate, not including safety Evan Berry and linebacker Quarte Sapp who are recovering from knee surgeries that took place in the fall. Here’s a look at some Vols that have an open door to step up:

Photo by Danny Parker

OUT-Micah Abernathy, IN-Nigel Warrior

Between Abernathy and Berry being out and Stephen Griffin transferring, it’s a prime opportunity for Nigel Warrior to make a quantum leap forward in his development. Not only will he get new teachings from Charlton Warren, but he will get ample attention from second-year Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who works with safeties quite often on Haslam Field. What do you get when you combine five-star talent with coaching and practice? Better.

Photo by Danny Parker

OUT-RaShaan Gaulden, IN-Marquill Osborne

Only three tackles separated Gaulden from being Tennessee’s leader (Todd Kelly Jr.) in that key individual statistic. It was a welcomed sight to see Gaulden finally healthy and able to showcase his ability. However, he won’t be around forever and injuries are part of the game. That means somebody better be ready and the first name that comes to mind is Marquill Osborne. The former Under Armour All-American doesn’t have 4.3 speed and he’s not 6-foot-3 but he’s physical, quick and flat good at football.

Photo by Danny Parker

OUT-Brandon Johnson, IN-Marquez Callaway

Based on our evaluations of watching Tennessee practice, Marquez Callaway should be ahead of Johnson on the “organizational chart.” The heck why is he listed here then? Because neither of them set the world on fire during their freshman campaigns. Together they totaled eight receptions. Three of the top four pass catchers from a year ago exited stage left. Between those players gone and Johnson out, Callaway can gain the trust not only of Tennessee coaches but for the quarterbacks vying to replace Joshua Dobbs. Tacking on, new wide receivers coach Kevin Beard is from Plantation, Florida. Johnson played at American Heritage High School in…drumroll…Plantation, Florida. Coaches are human, so it would be natural for Beard to think highly of Johnson right out of the gates, which mean Callaway will want to show that Peach State boys can represent, too.

Photo by Danny Parker

OUT-Brett Kendrick, IN-Marcus Tatum

Drew Richmond is the favorite to start at left tackle and Kendrick on the right side. It’s hard to know what Chance Hall will do because he struggles to get to 100-percent healthy, and he’s not there now. That opens the door for younger offensive tackles such as Nathan Niehaus, Trey Smith and Marcus Tatum. Unfortunately for that trio, there’s no Derek Barnett or Corey Vereen around anymore to show they can block a soon-to-be NFL defensive end like they will face at times while at Tennessee. While Smith may kick inside to guard, he’s still going to get time at tackle. Niehaus and Tatum are expected to stay out wide at tackle and both possess the athletic skills and and length to win.

Photo by Danny Parker

OUT-Kyle Phillips, IN-Jay Blakely

Phillips is one of the program’s premier combinations of ability on the field and class off of it, however, the youngster wasn’t blessed with two healthy shoulders. The odds of him being healthy and ready to go for a full season this fall are bleak, which means Brady Hoke better be coaching up the pile of inexperience he inherited. Deandre Johnson has ability and will be a sponge all spring long, but he’s 17 years old. Mykelle McDaniel looks to be healthy and is back practicing, but his body has a long way to go to compete on this level. Spectators should glance around the back of the north end zone if they arrive for the DISH Orange & White game on April 22 at roughly 3:15 p.m. Eastern. The guy who looks the part and could take major steps toward the two-deep over the next 31 days will be there and wearing No. 48. That’s Jay Blakely. Some point to Daniel Bituli and Will Ignont as prep linebackers that could be rush ends but Blakely is the guy already in that process.

Photo by Danny Parker

OUT-Josh Smith, IN-Latrell Williams

If the slot position is Smith’s home under Beard, then more reps will naturally go to Tyler Byrd, whose skills have already been on display aplenty and will get ample targets this fall. The burner who should see an opportunity with Smith out is Latrell Williams, who barely saw the practice field in 2017 in large part because of a gimpy hamstring. Williams’ explosive ability may be something that Larry Scott finds attractive enough to insert the Lake City, Florida, native into the weekly game plan.

Photo by Danny Parker ©?

OUT-Shy Tuttle, IN-Quay Picou

When IT asked Butch Jones who rang the personal record bell more often than anyone this winter, the fifth-year head man pointed to end Darrell Taylor and defensive tackle Quay Picou. Being able to clean and jerk more weight than Picou has in his life doesn’t mean the Buford (Ga.) High School product is going to be an All-SEC performer, but he has to step up. With both Hoke and previous defensive line coach Steve Stripling around, Picou should have plenty of lessons to learn on how to defeat Southeastern Conference offensive linemen.

Photo by Danny Parker

OUT-Kendal Vickers, IN-Alexis Johnson

Picou is one guy that could take advantage of a vacant pack of reps at D-tackle. Another is Alexis Johnson. The former Scout four-star prospect and JUCO signee played in a grand total of one game in 2016. It remains to be seen if Tennessee can get a fifth year of eligibility for Johnson, but he’s got to produce in 2017 no matter what. Between the aforementioned Hoke and Stripling on top of a technician like Kahlil McKenzie with which to work, Johnson could enjoy a profoundly productive spring, which would be key for him since he missed all of last spring and all of summer conditioning due to a lengthy suspension. The Atlanta native needs Tennessee and Tennessee needs Johnson.

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