Tennessee wrapped up spring practice Saturday with the annual Orange and White Game. Pre-spring injuries limited the star power on display, however the Vols still had enough playmakers to draw some strong conclusions.
Here are three takeaways from spring practice:
The Vols have at least five players who can excel in the passing game
That’s good news for Tennessee, whose coaches have openly said that they want to create more big plays downfield. Junior college transfer Jeff George and rising sophomore Preston Williams have proven they’re ready to assume significant roles on the outside. Rising junior Josh Smith looks to be a perfect fit at slot. After that, receivers may be a little non-traditional, especially for a spread offense.
Tight end Ethan Wolf showed off his athletic ability on a nice run following a downfield pass that resulted in a long reception. Expect junior tailback Alvin Kamara to be very involved in the passing game. Tennessee’s coaches have hinted as much throughout spring practice, but chose not to show anything new on Saturday with a television audience peering at the Vols from other SEC campuses.
Tennessee’s safeties could be better despite being brand new
No offense to departed senior safeties Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil, but a youth movement could result in more overall playmaking ability in the Vols’ last line of defense. Rising sophomores Micah Abernathy and Rashaan Gaulden earned strong praise early in spring practice. Junior Todd Kelly Jr., had a strong finish to spring practice and capped it off with an interception in the Orange and White Game. Whichever pair ends up winning the two starting spots, fans can expect a rangy, physical duo.
The key for Tennessee’s new safety set will be to understand that they’re the last line of defense. A blown coverage or a missed tackle could result in a loss for the Vols. Tennessee’s secondary learned that lesson against Florida last season.
Darrin Kirkland Jr., is already considered a seasoned vet
Most sophomores would be pushed to work on their game in their first spring practice. That wasn’t the case with Darrin Kirkland, Jr. After starting 10 games as a freshman last season, Kirkland has shown Tennessee’s coaches enough that they know he’ll be ready to play this fall. There was no reason to risk an injury to Kirkland, especially after senior Jalen Reeves-Maybin was knocked out with a shoulder injury midway through spring camp.
The Vols will likely play a nickelback primarily this season, meaning they’ll just have two linebackers on the field most of the time. As long as Reeves-Maybin is healthy and Kirkland becomes what his coaches believe he can, the Vols will have one of the most formidable linebacker duos in the SEC.