Things are looking up for Tennessee and head coach Butch Jones. The Vols just pulled in a highly-respected recruiting class to follow the “brick-by-brick” mantra in Knoxville, and it may just be a matter of time before Tennessee is back to being a force in the SEC East on a regular basis. That said, there will be a good number of players missing or limited during Tennessee’s spring practice schedule.
Defensive ends Derek Barnett and Kyle Phillips, defensive tackle Danny O’Brien, middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. and wide receiver Jason Croom are all expected to be out of action this spring, Jones announced on Friday. In addition to that list, Jones suggested tight end Alex Ellis could also be out for the spring.
Croom injured his knee during bowl practices leading up to Tennessee’s match-up with Iowa. Ellis, a senior, was recently awarded a scholarship by Tennessee.
To further deplete the available depth in the spring, Jones also listed a handful of players that could be limited at best this spring. Wide receiver Marquez North, running back Jalen Hurd, offensive lineman Chance Hall, defensive end Corey Vereen, defensive lineman Charles Mosley, linebacker Dillon Bates and cornerback Rashaan Gaulden were those mentioned as limited this spring by the head coach.
North played in 10 games last season and missed playing time due to a shoulder injury. Hurd was Tennessee’s leading rusher in 2014 with 899 yards and five touchdowns.
Tennessee is home to one of the largest stadiums in the country. Neyland Stadium holds over 100,000 fans, which can be pretty intimidating for a young player who has never experienced that sort of environment. On Saturday the Vols opened up a practice for fans to enjoy in Neyland Stadium, and 40,000 fans showed up.
”At my junior college, we only had about 200 people at the games,” wide receiver Von Pearson said, per the Associated Press. ”And this is only practice.”
This was the second straight year Tennessee opened a fall camp practice to the public. The open practice is an eye-opening experience for the recruiting class, which was regarded as one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Rivals ranked the Tennessee class fifth in the nation, and nearly half was able to be a part of the spring game for their first glimpse at playing in Neyland Stadium. The other 18 members of the recruiting class got their first taste of playing in front of fans at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
“It was amazing,” freshman linebacker Dillon Bates said. “I definitely had those butterflies coming in, but that was good, you never get those anywhere else. That’s the greatest feeling in the world. To come out of the tunnel to all the fans just to watch a practice, just to show how important this team is to the community, to Vol Nation, it was great to see this turnout.”
Tennessee will open the 2014 season at home in front of a significantly larger crowd on August 31. Utah State and Chuckie Keeton will be the opponent in ne of the more intriguing match-ups of the first weekend of the season.