KNOXVILLE — Major physical changes usually take place for college football players during winter and summer conditioning programs.
In Tennessee’s case, the Volunteers lost about 700 pounds over the course of spring practice — one returning starter and two other candidates for vacancies in the lineup left the program.
After a spring practice in which the departures of Bryce Brown, Aaron Douglas and Nick Stephens dominated the headlines, today will be about the players who are on first-year coach Derek Dooley’s roster.
And today, they’ll be playing in a real game.
This year’s Orange and White game is expected to have more of a competitive feel than the most recent incarnations of the event. In the latter years of Phillip Fulmer’s tenure, it wasn’t unusual to see the same guy catching passes — or batting them down — for both teams. Lane Kiffin’s lone spring game was conducted under an offense vs. defense format.
Not so this time. The seniors were divided up among the two teams and held a draft to fill out the rosters for today’s glorified scrimmage.
The first pick in that draft? Running back Tauren Poole. The rising junior led the team in rushing in both of the Vols’ major scrimmages, and appears to be the odds-on favorite to start at tailback in September.
The guy handing off to Poole and the other backs will be new as well. Right now, junior-college transfer Matt Simms appears to have the edge at quarterback over early enrollee Tyler Bray. They’re the only true candidates at the position after Stephens left the team when Dooley reduced his practice reps after the first spring scrimmage.
Oh, and the line blocking for that neophyte quarterback and running back will be entirely brand new. All five starters must be replaced after Douglas, a tackle, left the team. Among the players jockeying for reps up front is Kingsport native Daniel Hood, a rising redshirt freshman.
“There’s probably not a program that’s ever gone into a new year with five new offensive linemen, a new quarterback and a new runner. It’s challenging,” Dooley said in a recent SI.com article. “The good news is we’ve got some good young talent. The question is how fast will they grow?”
It’d be nice if they could multiply on defense. Coordinator Justin Wilcox, who previously coached at Boise State, has some talented individuals but very little depth — most notably at defensive tackle. Numbers will improve at linebacker when Nick Reveiz and Savion Frazier return fully from injuries. The secondary, headlined by sophomore Janzen Jackson, is stocked but young. Redshirt freshmen Eric Gordon and Naz Oliver have started at corner while veteran Art Evans recovers from shoulder surgery.
Celebrity coaches representing the media and UT faculty will be on the sidelines for the game. As for the full-time coaches, the Orange staff includes offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, defensive backs coach Terry Joseph and linebackers coach Lance Thompson.
Wilcox is joined on the White staff by receivers coach Charlie Baggett, quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, defensive line coach Chuck Smith and Eric Russell, who oversees tight ends and special teams.
Kickoff is at 2 p.m. The game will be streamed live online at foxsportstennessee.com and can be heard on the Vol Radio Network. SportSouth will televise a two-hour replay of the game Sunday at 8 p.m.