Scrimmage outlook

Tennessee's football team holds its first full-scale scrimmage of the preseason later today, and it's likely to go a long way toward establishing a pecking order at several key positions.

For example:

* The Vols are trying hard to find a capable backup to No. 1 tailback Gerald Riggs. That's why each of the candidates -- Arian Foster, Ja'Kouri Williams, LaMarcus Coker, Montario Hardesty and David Yancey -- will be trying desperately to separate himself from the others in today's dress rehearsal. UT can't continue to give six RBs equal practice reps, so a couple of the young tailbacks could fade into the background if they fail to impress today.

* Obviously, the quarterback battle between Rick Clausen and Erik Ainge remains unsettled. Although both are likely to play significantly in Tennessee's Sept. 3 opener with Alabama-Birmingham, the coaching staff would like to have a No. 1 guy in mind before too much longer. In addition, today's scrimmage will help determine whether Bo Hardegree or fan favorite Jim Bob Cooter emerges as UT's No. 3 quarterback. Injuries forced the Vols to go three-deep at QB last fall, and there's always a chance that could happen again.

* There's a real war raging at tight end, where the competition consists of two seniors (Justin Reed, Jake Finlayson) and two sophomores (Chris Brown, Brad Cottam). Brown and Cottam are gifted prospects with mind-boggling potential but they need to step up today and show they can be physical in the running game, as well as productive in the passing game.

* Senior Richie Gandy and David Ligon continue to compete for supremacy at center. Gandy appears to be the choice if his surgically repaired ACL is sound, but UT coaches will be monitoring him closely today to see how the knee holds up. Ligon has impressed the staff with his work ethic, and a strong showing today could earn him a beefier backup role … and maybe even the No. 1 job.

* The fullback pecking order (1. Cory Anderson, 2. David Holbert) is set. Likewise, Robert Meachem, Chris Hannon, Jayson Swain, C.J. Fayton and Bret Smith are clearly the top five receivers. However, one or two of the freshman wideouts -- Josh Briscoe, Slick Shelley, Lucas Taylor -- could earn some early season playing time with a strong performance today.

* Safety has been a problem area for more than a year, and it undoubtedly will get a lot of attention from UT's coaches today. Antwan Stewart (strong) and Jonathan Hefney (free) are the probable starters but Corey Campbell isn't out of the picture by any means. With good outings today, freshmen Demetrice Morley and Adam Myers-White could earn Game 1 playing time.

* Parys Haralson is a lock at one end but senior Jason Hall is fighting to hold off Antonio Reynolds on the other side. Xavier Mitchell, Robert Ayers, Jared Hostetter and tackle Turk McBride are also vying for playing time on the flanks.

* The starting linebackers will be seniors Kevin Simon, Omar Gaither and Jason Mitchell but there's plenty of jockeying for position behind them. Today's scrimmage could be a huge one for outside ‘backers Jerod Mayo and Ryan Karl, two 2004 signees who have bright futures. Marvin Mitchell and Daniel Brooks are big enough/versatile enough to also play end, so they bear watching today, as well.

* Defensive tackle is set, with All-American Jesse Mahelona and All-SEC candidate Justin Harrell due to start, backed by McBride, Tony McDaniel and Demonte Bolden. Matt McGlothlin, back from a one-year suspension, could throw his hat in the ring with a good effort today. The cornerback spots also appear settled, with Jason Allen and Roshaun Fellows, backed by Jonathan Wade. Kicker James Wilhoit is enjoying a fine preseason and Britton Colquitt has the punting job almost by default.

That's the outlook as the Vols prepare for what shapes up to be a very enlightening scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.


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