If you can't make it out to Neyland Stadium at 2:00 PM EDT tomorrow, you can watch the Orange & White Game for free at UT's official site. The rules will be a little bit different for Derek Dooley's first spring game: we'll play only 10 minute quarters, and instead of going first team vs. second team, a draft was held this week to divide the entire roster, with seniors picking teams on each side. You can find the complete rosters from the News-Sentinel here.
As we learned in 2008, you don't want to put too much emphasis on what happens in the spring game: the Clawfense never looked better than it did in that O&W Game, as the coaches dumbed things down and designed everything to give both Jonathan Crompton and the fan base confidence. If Matt Simms goes off on Saturday, just remember that Clawfense Crompton went 13 of 20 for 266 and 3 TDs in '08. Greatness can be faked in April.
And though that also works to make struggles even more noticeable, the overall vanilla nature of the game should allow all of us to just enjoy a small taste of football, and hope for better days ahead for the program. Along the way, here's what we'll be watching:
Matt Simms & Tyler Bray
I can't remember a year where the very first glimpse we'll get of September's new starting quarterback will be in the spring game. Most guys around here don't start right away as true freshmen or juco transfers, and the last time it happened we didn't see Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer until the fall. And since the two previous scrimmages have been closed to the media, for almost all of us our first impression of Matt Simms and Tyler Bray will come Saturday.
Again, we don't want to make too much of whatever we see...but it should be interesting. Matt Simms - #2 in your program for the orange team - will play with Gerald Jones, Marsalis Teague, and Luke Stocker. Tyler Bray - the latest Vol QB to wear #8 - will have Denarius Moore, Zach Rogers, and the freshman duo of Ted Meline (#5) and Matt Milton (#9) on the white team.
What will probably end up being the starting offensive line in the fall will be divided up between the two teams, so it'll be impossible to judge their play as a unit, and could mean that it's a good thing both QBs will be wearing the green non-contact jerseys. We'll just be getting to know these two...hopefully their confidence gets a boost on Saturday.
These two we already know a little bit...but now is their big chance to shine. If the passing game is limited by inexperience at QB and up front, Poole and Oku could see a huge workload this fall. Montario Hardesty certainly set the bar high...but Oku's pedigree and Poole's hard-nosed determination have given us reason to be excited.
Neither has had consistent success running the football in the two previous scrimmages based on the numbers, but Poole has broken off a couple of long runs to pad his stats. And no matter how much one might separate himself from the other, a significant number of carries should end up going to both men. Poole - the first pick in the draft - will go for the white team, Oku with the orange. Who ends up with more yards?
Defensive Tackles not named Montori Hughes
Hughes will go with the white team, and my greatest interest in seeing him is if the Vols break out that formation where he lines up at middle linebacker. Hughes is the only proven commodity at DT, and there are lots of guys - Marlon Walls, Chase Nelson, Rae Sykes, and Steven Fowlkes among them - who have a huge opportunity in front of them. The Vols need bodies in the trenches either way, but one of those guys is going to have to be more than just a pulse. Will any of them show us any flashes of good things to come on Saturday, especially against a thin offensive line?
White Team LBs
Nick Reveiz and Savion Frazier won't play, both still recovering from knee surgery. It's interesting that Herman Lathers, LaMarcus Thompson, and Greg King are all on the orange team - I think those are our next three best LBs. That means the white team is going to feature a lot of guys with potential that we haven't seen fully realized yet: Daryl Vereen, Shane Reveiz, Nigel Mitchell-Thornton...plus Austin Johnson in his transition from FB, and Jerod Askew (#47), who at one time was the best player in last year's recruiting class.
The assumption has always been that the Vols would start Thompson and Reveiz, same as last year, and then either move Frazier or Lathers outside, or give the nod to Greg King. So who on the white team will impress at the position, and could possibly move into a contributing role for 2010, at a position that's going to be looking for new faces in important roles in 2011?
Will Al Wilson actually hit somebody in the halftime flag football game?
Worth the $5 price of admission is the brand new UT Legends Flag Football game, a fantastic idea that should become an annual tradition. Looking at the rosters, it's a very nice collection of talent from the last 20 years, with the quarterbacks - Jeff Francis for the white and Sterling Hinton for the orange - going back to the 80s. It'll be great to see Joey Kent and Travis Stephens out there for the orange again...but the white team has Peerless and Al Wilson, which means defeat is an impossibility. Is flag football a non-contact sport? On Saturday, I doubt it.