Scrimmage No. 2 is big

With Tennessee's opener at UCLA 16 days away, the Vol staff has a pretty good idea who the 22 starters will be.

Behind them, though, it's anyone's guess. That's why Saturday night's full-scale scrimmage looms large. The borderline guys who perform well likely will earn backup jobs for the Sept. 1 opener at UCLA.

"Saturday is a very important day for us as far as looking at situations and continuing to evaluate personnel," head coach Phillip Fulmer said Friday. "That's particularly so in the kicking game and from a depth standpoint."

Indeed. Several positions are clearcut in terms of a starter but not so clearcut in terms of backups.

For instance:

- Jonathan Crompton is locked in as the No. 1 quarterback but sophomore Nick Stephens and redshirt freshman B. J. Coleman are engaged in a real battle for the No. 2 job.

- Ditto at tailback, where junior Montario Hardesty, sophomore Lennon Creer and freshman Tauren Poole are bidding for backup duty behind senior starter Arian Foster.

- All five starters return from the 2007 offensive line but Vladimir Richard is the only proven reserve to this point. Fulmer would love to see four more blockers prove themselves trustworthy between now and Sept. 1.

- Tight end might be the most unsettled position on the team. FSU transfer Brandon Warren started last Saturday's scrimmage but has not yet been ruled eligible for 2008. Jeff Cottam started six games last fall but has been slow recovering from a fractured fibula suffered last spring. Luke Stocker is having a very good preseason and is locked in a three-way battle with Warren and Cottam for supremacy at the position.

- At receiver, the Vols are trying to whittle a list of nine contenders to six. Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers, Josh Briscoe and Gerald Jones appear to be locks. The other two spots are up for grabs among Denarius Moore, Quintin Hancock, Ahmad Paige, Tyler Maples and Todd Campbell.

The story is much the same on defense: The starters appear set at most positions but the second-team jobs are not.

- Dan Williams, Demonte Bolden and Walter Fisher will be the top three tackles but sophomore Victor Thomas and redshirt freshman are waging quite a battle for the No. 4 spot in the rotation.

- Wes Brown and Robert Ayers appear locked in at end, with Ben Martin, Chris Walker and Andre Mathis battling for backup snaps.

- Rico McCoy (weakside) and Ellix Wilson (middle) are set as first-team linebackers. Nevin McKenzie took a big step toward locking down the strongside spot last Saturday but Adam Myers-White remains in the running. Savion Frazier is battling juco transfer Gerald Williams and LaMarcus Thompson for the backup berth behind McCoy, while Nick Reveiz, Thompson and Chris Donald are vying for second-team snaps behind Wilson.

DeAngelo Willingham appears to have a death grip on one starting job at cornerback but the other spot could go to Dennis Rogan, Brent Vinson, Marsalous Johnson or Antonio Gaines.

Rogan and Willingham also may figure in the mix at safety, where there is no proven depth behind starters Eric Berry and Demetrius Morley. Redshirt freshman Daryl Vereen shows great promise, however.

The kicking chores appear set, with Daniel Lincoln handling placements and Chad Cunningham handling the punting chores. Each figures to back up the other one.

As noted in an earlier article, Tennessee's return game remains very much up in the air with roughly a dozen candidates bidding to field kickoffs and punts.


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