Huge scrimmage today

Only a few reporters will watch Tennessee's final tuneup scrimmage at 11:15 today but it will be far more revealing than the Orange & White Game that thousands of observers will watch eight days hence.

There's a very good reason for that. The O&W tussle will be attended by scouts of rival programs and videotaped for a regional television audience. That's why the Vols are likely to play vanilla on offense and defense; they don't want to tip their hands to the teams they'll be playing in the fall.

Conversely, there will be no TV cameras rolling and no rival scouts leering at today's scrimmage. Thus, UT's offensive and defensive coaches can pull out all the stops.

Because today's scrimmage will more closely approximate an actual game than the O&W tilt, it will carry substantial weight in determining which players top the depth chart when the Vols reassemble in August to begin preseason drills:

Here's a position-by-position look at the battles:

QUARTERBACK: Senior Jonathan Crompton looked good early but sophomore B. J. Coleman clearly outplayed him in last Saturday's scrimmage. Junior Nick Stephens gets his first scrimmage action of the spring today, so this is his chance to turn a two-horse race into a three-horse derby.

RUNNING BACK: Senior Montario Hardesty leads but sophomore Tauren Poole has looked outstanding at times. So has mid-term freshman enrollee Toney Williams. All three need to leave a good impression this spring because they'll face stiff challenges from heralded signees Bryce Brown and David Oku in August.

FULLBACK: Junior Kevin Cooper, the starter in 2008, is a real brute as a lead blocker. Sophomore Austin Johnson may provide a little more versatility because of his pass-catching ability. He actually lined up as a wide receiver in last Saturday's scrimmage and caught a pass downfield.

WIDE RECEIVER: Junior Gerald Jones is the unquestioned star but physical targets Quintin Hancock (6-3, 207) and Brandon Warren (6-2, 218) have made a lot of catches this spring. Speedy Denarius Moore led all receivers in last Saturday's scrimmage with four grabs for 45 yards. Senior Austin Rogers needs to return to his 2007 form (56 catches) after making just 14 a year ago. Sophomores Todd Campbell and Tyler Maples are fighting to be noticed.

TIGHT END: Junior Luke Stocker is the better receiver, senior Jeff Cottam the superior blocker. Stocker is questionable for the scrimmage due to "head issues," whatever those are. Former fullback Ben Bartholomew is now listed as a tight end, for what it's worth.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Redshirt freshmen Aaron Douglas and Dallas Thomas have been pleasant surprises all spring. They're battling sophomore William Brimfield for the starting spot opposite senior Chris Scott. If you can take your eyes off the football long enough, these guys should be interesting to observe.

GUARD: Seniors Vladimir Richard and Jacques McClendon were the projected first-teamers entering spring ball but junior Jarrod Shaw and sophomore Cody Pope (recently moved inside from tackle) are giving the old guys a run for their money.

CENTER: Josh McNeil is a three-year starter but head coach Lane Kiffin insists that fellow senior Cody Sullins is very much in the picture.

DEFENSIVE END: Chris Walker has been a dominating force on the pass rush, and fellow junior Ben Martin has looked pretty strong on the other side. Gerald Williams squandered some valuable practice time this spring by insisting on playing linebacker for two weeks. He needs to start making a move soon. Redshirt freshmen Steven Fowlkes and Willie Bohannon have shown flashes this spring. Juco transfer Rae Sykes is a work in progress.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Senior Wes Brown (a converted end) and mid-term freshman Montori Hughes are waging quite a battle for the starting spot opposite senior Dan Williams. Tennessee State transfer Minor Bowens has gotten some repetitions with the first-team defense, as well. Senior Andre Mathis has been up and down, as have juniors Chase Nelson and Victor Thomas.

LINEBACKER: Junior Nick Reveiz and redshirt freshman Herman Lathers are going back and forth for a middle linebacker job that may not be decided until September. Rico McCoy is a lock at strongside 'backer but the weakside spot is up for grabs. The leading combatants are juniors LaMarcus Thompson and Savion Frazier, along with sophomores Daryl Vereen and Josh Hawkins.

CORNERBACK: With Brent Vinson sidelined till August and fellow junior Dennis Rogan splitting time at free safety, the picture couldn't be more muddled at this position. Junior Art Evans and sophomore C. J. Fleming were the starting corners in last Saturday's scrimmage but former starters Rogan (2008) and Marsalous Johnson (2007) remain very much in the picture.

SAFETY: The dismissal of senior free safety Demetrice Morley earlier this week leaves Rogan and sophomore Stephaun Raines battling redshirt freshman Prentiss Waggner for supremacy at this position. Rod Wilks is emerging as a quality backup for Eric Berry at strong safety.

PUNTER: Chad Cunningham, who started the first five games of 2008 while Britton Colquitt was serving a disciplinary suspension, has been just good enough to stay a step ahead of backup Steven Hensley.

PLACE-KICKER: Daniel Lincoln has been erratic. Cunningham does not appear to pose a serious threat, so Ethan Ingham (a redshirt freshman walk-on from Gallatin) may get a shot.

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