By Alex Norman
Well, that’ll do it…
The next time we see the Vols it’ll be on September 4th at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, when Tennessee plays Georgia Tech.
Spring football finished up for the Vols on Saturday, April 22nd at the rain shortened Orange & White Game.
So what did we learn from Tennessee football this spring? And what didn’t we learn?
First up, the quarterbacks. That’s what you want to talk about. That’s what everyone loves to talk about.
We learned that head coach Butch Jones is a man of his word, and did not name a starter at the conclusion of spring football. Thus, we did not learn if Quinten Dormady or Jarrett Guarantano will be under center for the first offensive snap against the Yellow Jackets.
In the Orange & White Game Dormady looked solid, completing all 10 throws for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He also wowed the crowd in the QB competition. Guarantano wasn’t shabby either. It was a smaller sample size, but he completed 4 out of 5 passes for 41 yards.
Tennessee has a good problem here. They have two very good quarterbacks that need to see the field comes September.
Back in 2004 Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge shared playing time and led the Vols to the SEC championship game. Yes, they eventually got hurt and gave way to Rick Clausen, but Phillip Fulmer handled that situation as well as possible.
The following year was the complete opposite, when Ainge and Clausen were shuttled in and out of the starting lineup seemingly each and every week. The Vols collapsed and finished 5-6. In 2008 Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens helped usher the end of the Fulmer era with their ineffective play.
The way that Butch Jones deals with this potential quarterback controversy will tell the story of the 2017 Tennessee Volunteers.
This spring we learned that Tennessee has one go to wide receiver in Jauan Jennings and a bunch of question marks elsewhere in the pass catching corps. Who is going to take some of the heat off Jennings? During the Orange & White Game a total of 11 Vols caught passes. Redshirt freshman Latrell Williams had by most accounts a very good spring, even making a 23 yard reception. Josh Smith is hurt often. Marquez Callaway, Jeff George, Tyler Byrd… all guys that have the potential to be significant contributors…
We may have learned that Tennessee has an option behind Ethan Wolf at tight end. Wolf is a senior that dropped too many passes in 2016, but is still one of the best in the SEC at his position. Senior Jakob Johnson had a very good spring and even was named Harvey Robinson Award, given to the team’s most improved offensive player.
Johnson has moved around between positions through his Tennessee career, and played mostly on special teams. Perhaps he is ready to make more of a contribution in 2017.
On defense we learned the Darrell Taylor should be known for more than his exuberance before the Virginia Tech game. The redshirt sophomore won the Al Wilson Teammate Award, which bodes well for Taylor to help bolster the defensive line. With Derek Barnett gone to the pros, Taylor will get his opportunities to rush the quarterback.
We also learned something that Tennessee might not be happy to hear. We learned that fan enthusiasm is waning.
2016 was supposed to be the season that the Vols returned to its place among the elite teams in the SEC. Instead, it was a Music City Bowl berth. Wins over rivals Florida and Georgia were overshadowed by unacceptable losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
The weather was threatening but attendance was way down at the Orange & White Game. There is a sentiment among many fans that the program has plateaued under Jones.
Patience has started to wear thin as 2017 marks ten years since the Vols last played in the SEC championship game, and nineteen years since their last conference title.
Maybe this is the year that patience will be rewarded.