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VOL. 132 | NO. 85 | Friday, April 28, 2017

Spring Lessons: Here’s Who Vols Will Start

BY DAVE LINK, Knoxville Sports Correspondent

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Tennessee football coach Butch Jones isn’t big on naming starters and divulging depth charts. Not until he has to. So it comes as no surprise the Vols enter summer workouts and fall camp with junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano still competing for the starting quarterback’s job.

Quarterbacks Jarrett Guarantano, left, and Quinten Dormady settled little during Saturday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.

(Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com)

Spring practices concluded with last Saturday’s DISH Orange & White Game at Neyland Stadium in front of announced crowd of 35,000, down from last year’s 67,027. Rainy weather contributed to the low turnout for this year’s game, which was cut short by a thunderstorm.

Those attending saw Dormady perform like a starting quarterback, albeit against a defense composed largely of backups.

Dormady completed 10-of-10 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Guarantano was 4-of-5 for 41 yards with no touchdown or interception. Dormady also won the quarterback competition, which entailed hitting targets and trying to throw into garbage cans.

Jones said after the spring game there is no timetable for announcing the starter for the Sept. 4 opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

“I don’t ever believe that you give yourself a set time when you have to name a starting quarterback,” Jones said. “I want them to compete. I think competition is extremely healthy, and I think they’ve all elevated their games because of that competition, so I want them to compete.”

Dormady, a consensus four-star recruit from Boerne (Texas) High School, has played in 10 games during his UT career as the backup to Joshua Dobbs and completed 24-of-39 passes for 357 yards with a 61.5-percent completion rate. In four games last year, Dormady was 11-of-17 for 148 yards without a touchdown.

“Quinten has live-game repetitions, and that’s hard to simulate, and game repetitions are invaluable,” Jones said. “But also I think Jarrett has done a great job of really being a student of the game, and I think all the quarterbacks have benefitted from Joshua Dobbs with his approach every single day of what it means to be the quarterback at the University of Tennessee.”

Dormady was a pro-style quarterback in high school, and in two varsity seasons threw for almost 6,000 yards and 59 touchdowns. He threw for 2,893 yards and 32 TDs as a senior and rushed for 261 yards and five touchdowns.

Guarantano was a four-star dual-threat quarterback at Bergen Catholic High in Oradell, New Jersey, and during his career rushed for 523 yards and 12 TDs and threw for 3,028 yards and 28 TDs. His dual-threat abilities appear a better fit for UT’s zone-read offense, but there is an opinion Dormady’s running talents are underrated.

After the spring game, Dormady was asked about his confidence going into the summer – even telling media he didn’t understand why people underestimate his athleticism.

“I’m in the same place as I’ve always been,” Dormady explained. “I’m confident in my abilities. Like I’ve said all spring, just go out, compete, have fun, and everything will work out in the end.”

Neither quarterback was allowed to put his running on display during the spring game. No running plays for the quarterbacks were called, and sacks were recorded when a defender touched the quarterback.

Guarantano said the spring “was a great learning experience for me.”

“There was definitely a lot of new things that I didn’t get a chance to run and didn’t get a chance to get done last year, so it was good learning reps and also good getting repetitions just going with the first team and the second team at times,” Guarantano added. “But going into the summertime, the focus is just continuing to get better, continuing to work on the craft, film study, and trying to get live reps (during summer workouts with receivers).”

Barring the unforeseen, the quarterback competition will resume in fall camp.

“I’ve been pleased with the quarterback situation all spring,” Jones said, “and obviously, now going into the summer months, the next evolution of Team 121 is we have to do a good job of continuing to grow and build up momentum. But most progress occurs during the summer months in terms of leadership and getting instilled in the details, accountability, and toughness which we talk about every day.”

With 20 players out for the spring game, UT’s starting lineup for Georgia Tech will look far different from that of the spring game. Here’s the Ledger’s starting lineup for the Vols in the 2017 season opener (Aaron Medley returns as starting place-kicker and Trevor Daniel as punter):

  Offense

Quarterback: Quinten Dormady, 6-4, 216 pounds, junior, Boerne High, Boerne, Texas

Dormady, who started the spring game, gets the nod here because of game experience, but UT fans will be calling for Guarantano if the offense begins to stall. If it happens and Guarantano gets it going, don’t be surprised if Jones makes the switch. Third-string is Sheriron Jones, a redshirt sophomore and dual-threat quarterback. Jones was 1-of-4 for 2 yards in the spring game.

Running back: John Kelly, 5-9, 212 pounds, junior, Oak Park High, Detroit, Michigan

Kelly, who didn’t play in the spring game, was having a good spring but didn’t need it to secure the No. 1 job. After rushing for 630 yards and averaging 6.4 yards per carry in 2016, Kelly is the Vols’ top returning back with Alvin Kamara’s departure to the NFL. Sophomore Carlin Fils-aime started the spring game and rushed for 32 yards on seven carries. Fils-aime played in seven games last year and rushed for 58 yards on 14 carries.

Wide receiver: Jauan Jennings, 6-3, 205 pounds, junior, Blackman High, Murfreesboro

Jennings, who had three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, is the Vols’ top playmaker at receiver with Josh Malone gone to the NFL. He was the Vols’ second-leading receiver last year in receiving yardage (580) and TD catches (seven) and tied with Kamara for second in catches (40). His Hail Mary catch from Dobbs to beat Georgia was a highlight of 2016.

Wide receiver: Josh Smith, 6-1, 213 pounds, redshirt senior, Christian Academy of Knoxville.

Smith was held out of spring practices to get healthy for his last season with the Vols. Despite an injury-plagued career, Smith has played in 39 games with 18 starts. Last season, he was limited to 13 catches in 12 games. He’ll be pushed by underclassmen and newcomers, but gets the start due to experience. Redshirt freshman Latrell Williams started the spring game, had one catch for 23 yards, and should be in the rotation in 2017.

Wide receiver: Tyler Byrd, 6-0 195 pounds, sophomore, Naples High, Naples, Florida

Sophomore Marquez Callaway got the start in the spring game and had one catch for 12 yards, and Butch Jones gave him kudos after the game. However, Byrd was third among UT wide receivers in catches (15) and receiving yards (209) last season after switching from defensive back in fall camp. He had one catch for 18 yards in the spring game.

Tight End: Ethan Wolf, 6-6, 245 pounds, senior, Minster High, Minster, Ohio

Wolf, who had three catches for 28 yards in the spring game, tied for fourth on the team in catches (21) last year and had 239 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Fans might recall a few dropped passes, as does Wolf, but he’s played 38 games in his UT career with 34 starts.

Left tackle: Brett Kendrick, 6-6, 318 pounds, redshirt senior, Christian Academy of Knoxville

Kendrick, who was held out of spring practice, started all 13 games at tackle last season – seven at left tackle and six at right tackle – and as a junior was the starter at right tackle the first five games before suffering knee and elbow injuries. He’s played in 33 games during his UT career with 20 starts. Redshirt sophomore Drew Richmond, former Memphis University School standout, started the spring game at left tackle and will push Kendrick in fall camp.

Left guard: Jashon Robertson, 6-3, 305 pounds, senior, Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville

Robertson started 12 of 13 games last season at left guard and has been a starter since he was a true freshman in 2014. Robertson spent much of the spring working at center due to Coleman Thomas’ emergency appendectomy, but should return to left guard for his last season at Tennessee. He started at center for the spring game.

Center: Coleman Thomas, 6-5, 301 pounds, senior, Fort Chiswell High, Max Meadows, Virginia.

Thomas started eight games, mostly at center, but played guard and tackle. As a sophomore in 2013, Thomas started 12 of 13 games at center (with another start at right tackle). He started five games as a freshman in 2015 at right tackle and is the Vols’ most versatile offensive lineman.

Right guard: Trey Smith, 6-6, 313 pounds, freshman, University School of Jackson

Smith, a January enrollee and a five-star recruit, benefitted from spring practices and might be good enough to edge out junior Jack Jones for the starting job. Jones, of Murfreesboro Oakland High, started six games at right guard in 2016 when departed senior Dylan Wiesman moved to center. Jones will push Trey Smith for the starting job. Smith started the spring game at right guard.

Right tackle: Chance Hall, 6-4, 318 pounds, junior, Northside High, Roanoke, Virginia

Hall was limited in winter workouts and spring, and sophomore Marcus Tatum got the start at right tackle in the spring game. But if Hall can get (and stay) healthy, he should be the starter. Last year, he started six games in the middle of the season, but missed the other seven due to injuries. In 2015, Hall played in 10 games with seven starts at right tackle. Watch out for Tatum, though.

Defense (4-2-5 defense)

Defensive end: Kyle Phillips, 6-4, 259 pounds, junior, Hillsboro High, Nashville

UT’s biggest task defensively is replacing ends Derek Barnett, LaTroy Lewis, and Corey Vereen. Phillips, who was held out of spring, played in 10 games last year and got a start at end against Tennessee Tech. He’ll have plenty of competition for the starting job, though. Redshirt sophomore Darrell Taylor got the start in the spring game after playing in eight games in 2016.

Defensive tackle: Kendal Vickers, 6-3, 295 pounds, redshirt senior, Havelock High, Havelock, North Carolina

Vickers, who was held out of spring, started his 26th consecutive game at defensive tackle in the bowl win over Nebraska. Redshirt junior Alexis Johnson, who missed the 2016 season with off-field issues, started the spring game. Johnson was the No. 2-ranked junior college prospect in 2016, and if he doesn’t start, will play.

Defensive tackle: Kahlil McKenzie, 6-3, 325 pounds, junior, Clayton Valley Charter, Walnut Creek, California

McKenzie was extremely limited in spring, but did enough to draw some praise from Jones. A five-star recruit, he’s trying to live up to the hype. The time is now. McKenzie played in seven games with one start in 2016 before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral. Junior Quay Picou got the start in the spring game and should be a factor in 2017. Junior Shy Tuttle missed spring due to injury.

Defensive end: Jonathan Kongbo, 6-6, 270 pounds, redshirt junior, Holy Cross High, Surrey, British Columbia, Arizona Western Community College.

Kongbo, who took part in spring practice but not the spring game, has cut weight since 2016 and looks ready to play up to his No. 1 JUCO-recruit rating. He played in all 13 games in 2016 with a start against Vanderbilt. Deandre Johnson, a January enrollee, got the start at right end in the spring game.

Mike linebacker: Darrin Kirkland Jr., 6-1, 320 pounds, Lawrence Central High, Indianapolis, Indiana

Kirkland Jr. spent much of his sophomore season in 2016 dealing with a high ankle sprain, but still played in seven games with six starts. During spring practices, Kirkland said he embraced more of a leadership role in 2017. If he’s not there, look for two others at mike LB: redshirt junior Colton Jumper, who played in 13 games with seven starts last season, and Daniel Bituli, the sophomore from Nashville Christian School who started the spring game. Jumper was the team’s fourth-leading tackler (61) last year.

Will linebacker: Cortez McDowell, 6-0, 235 pounds, senior, Locust Grove High, Locust Grove, Georgia

McDowell, who started at will linebacker in the spring game, was the Vols’ seventh-leading tackler (54) last year, playing in 12 games with four starts. He played in all 13 games in 2015 as a backup to Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Senior Elliott Berry, who played in 13 games with four starts last year, will push McDowell for the starting will linebacker job.

Nickel: Rashaan Gaulden, 6-1, 185 pounds, redshirt sophomore, Independence High, Spring Hill

Gaulden, who was held out of spring, played in all 13 games with nine starts in 2016 and was the team’s third-leading tackler (68), including six tackles for loss. He missed the 2015 season with a foot injury after playing 11 games as a true freshman in 2014. Sophomore Baylen Buchanan started the spring game at nickel, and in 2016 he got two starts at right cornerback against Alabama and South Carolina.

Left cornerback: Justin Martin, 6-1, 183 pounds, senior, Overton High, Nashville, Northeast Oklahoma A&M

With four-year starter Cam Sutton gone to the NFL, Martin took advantage with a big spring and started the spring game at left corner. Martin played in 10 games in 2016 with two starts at left corner against Florida and Tennessee Tech. He missed the Ohio game with an ankle injury and the Georgia game while suspended for violation of team rules.

Right cornerback: Emmanuel Moseley, 5-11, 180 pounds, senior, Dudley High, Greensboro, North Carolina

Sophomore Marquill Osborne started the spring game at right corner, but Moseley started 10 games at left and right corner in 2016 and should be the starter this fall. He was the team’s fifth-leading tackler (57) last year. Osborne, who played in 11 games last season, will get his chances in fall camp, though.

Strong safety: Todd Kelly, Jr., 5-11, 208 pounds, senior, Webb School of Knoxville

Sophomore Nigel Warrior started at strong safety in the spring game, with Kelly Jr. starting at free safety. Kelly was the starter at strong safety in 2016 and led the team in tackles (71) and tied for the team-high interceptions (two). Warrior, son of former UT and NFL standout Dale Carter, played in 12 games last season with a start against Missouri at strong safety. He’ll be a factor in the fall.

Free safety: Micah Abernathy, 6-0, 195 pounds, junior, Greater Atlanta Christian, Atlanta

Abernathy, held out of spring, played in 12 games in 2016 with 10 starts at free safety. He was the team’s second-leading tackler (69) and tied with Kelly for the team-high in tackles (two). Senior Evan Berry played in nine games in 2016 with three starts – two at free safety and one at strong safety. 

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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