The Tennessee Volunteers are speeding toward today's Orange and White game that will signify the end of spring football practice.
Here are the most important accomplishments about spring practices everywhere:
Goal No. 1: No one gets hurt.
Goal No. 2: Read goal No. 1.
Goals 3 through 1,241: Dozen of variables on "Have a little fun; find a little depth; work on some fundamentals."
UT's spring practice this year is different, of course, since during the offseason the Vols replaced something like 35 assistant coaches. (OK, it was seven, but it sure feels like more.)
So the Vols needed to install a new defensive look, changing bases and trying to find pieces for a 3-4 formation.
Certainly it was nothing as extreme as the spring Arkansas has endured with the fallout of Bobby Petrino's fall from grace. To be fair, Petrino's time spent with grace is limited in scope and duration, but the aftermath is as puzzling as the thought process that led the former Razorbacks head coach to commit career hara-kiri.
Petrino, who had a job-ending affair with a 25-year-old former volleyball player, told Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long during Long's investigation that the affair started with a kiss. With all apologies to Bill Raftery, don't all romantic relationships start with a kiss?
This is as surprising as the in-depth ESPN investigative report that some of the Oregon football players smoke pot. Began with a kiss ... Duh. Of course it began with a kiss, and it ended with a "Kiss your job goodbye."
So, regardless of how the Vols end this practice session today, there's no way it will be worse than the Razorbacks' spring. In fact, with an upcoming season filled with so much uneasiness that the only certainty will be the uncertainty, there are several UT players who could deliver strong showings today and alleviate some of the anxiety of Johnny Vols Fans everywhere for the next four months.
Since today's Orange and White scrimmage is a matchup of No. 1s -- the starting offense against the starting defense -- and No. 2s, the reserves on each side of the ball, there is likely to be some tangible results. Granted the great give-and-take of spring football is the viewpoint of the beholder, since every successful offensive play could be termed a defensive lapse and vice versa.
Still, a slew of players must mature for Derek Dooley and Co. to start a streak of winning seasons. Here are five Vols who need to show signs of being ready to shine this fall (Justin Hunter will):
Quarterback Tyler Bray: His arm and physical ability have never been at issue. His maturity and health, however, have been at question. He's 4-3 as a starter against SEC teams -- including the disappointing season-ending loss to Kentucky last November. For a Tennessee team with a new defensive scheme and several questions at running back and in the secondary, Bray must be an All-SEC candidate on the field for the Vols to compete week in, week out. He needs to be an All-America-type leader if they are going to compete for an SEC East title.
Linebacker Herman Lathers: The Vols' new defensive plans put extra strain on the linebackers, a position of limited depth in Knoxville. Enter Lathers, who last played a meaningful snap in the Music City Bowl in December 2009. If Lathers can stay healthy and line up alongside rising star A.J. Johnson, the middle linebackers could be stout.
Plus, if Lathers is healthy and effective inside, UT can (and likely will) slide athletic sophomore Curt Maggitt outside. Otherwise, the outside linebackers, well ...
Linebacker Jacques Smith: The former Ooltewah High School star will start today as the Vols' first-team Jack linebacker. It's a position of undeniable importance in Sal Sunseri's 3-4. Ideally, the Jack is a difference-maker, and Smith is one of the few on UT's roster who have the ability to fill the role physically. We'll get our first look today at whether he has picked up the mental part it.
Running back Marlin Lane: Running back is a huge hole for these Vols. Whether it's Lane or Raijon Neal or Devrin Young or a combination of every UT player wearing a uniform number from 20 to 44 is immaterial. That someone -- for a lack of a more apropos phrase -- takes the ball and runs is paramount.
Wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers: Ah, Da'Rick, the walking conundrum that seems pretty close to Kelley Washington 2.0. Rogers is the most talented player in Knoxville and he's been equal parts All-World and "Aw, what's he doing?" He should shine today against a suspect Vols secondary. Whether that's enough to keep him happy and in line until late August is another matter.
But that's a summer concern; today is about finishing the spring with authority.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...