TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22: Justin Coleman #27 of the Tennessee Volunteers breaks up a pass intended for DeAndrew White #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
We're taking a look at the top seven offensive and defensive players who made a leap this spring.
For the series opener, click this link and see why we thought Da'Rick Rogers and Herman Lathers -- two long-time difference-makers -- took necessary leaps during the past month to perhaps help the Tennessee Volunteers emerge from some of the darkest days in program history. Today, we're going to jump to No. 6.
One is a redshirt freshman Tennessee boy who is working his way into the rotation and pushing for a starting spot. The other is a rising sophomore who is no stranger to stellar springs where he earned a starting spot.
OFFENSE -- MACK CROWDER RS FR. CENTER
The recruiting star system didn't think the Bristol, Tenn., product was elite enough to be ranked among the four- and five-star players, but that didn't stop premiere programs like Florida and Virginia Tech from trying to lure him away from his homestate to be their center of the future.
In the end, Crowder stayed home and struggled through a freshman year where he had to get acclimated to the college game, build strength and get bigger. Thankfully for him and UT, he was able to redshirt so he didn't waste a year of eligibility.
What emerged this spring was an ideal-sized, 280-pound center who was calling all the assignments along the offensive front and pushing starting center Alex Bullard for his job. That is coming quite a long way in the past year for Crowder, and coaches love the kid with the baby face and mean streak. Though the job is Bullard's for now, the junior Notre Dame transfer hasn't been consistent thus far in his one year in Knoxville, and he struggled with that again this spring. The door is certainly cracked, and coaches believe with the breakout spring that Crowder enjoyed, he will settle nicely into the center of the future role and could push to be the center of the present as well.
DEFENSE -- JUSTIN COLEMAN SO. CORNERBACK
After enrolling at UT mid-term as a freshman, the Brunswick, Ga., native burst onto the scene last spring showing more physicality and athleticism than any cornerback on the Vols' roster. After consistently turning in some of the best practices and scrimmages during his first snaps on campus, Coleman got the attention of his coaches. After shutting down Justin Hunter in the Orange and White game, Coleman had the attention of UT fans.
That success continued throughout fall drills where Coleman kept the starting spot he earned in the spring. Then came the real games, lights-on, crowd screaming. During starts against Montana and Cincinnati, Coleman was burned for big passing plays, and down he sat. All of a sudden, he wasn't starting and was having to earn playing time again. He worked and made it back to the starting role in time for the Middle Tennessee game.
Though he didn't create any turnovers last year, Coleman had a solid first year for any defensive back. And with a new, physical scheme where Derrick Ansley wants his guys to play press-man and battle for interceptions, Coleman again emerged this spring and is bracketed as a starter along with Izaeua Lanier. Prentiss Waggner will battle for the starting spot when healthy, but Ansley believes Coleman is a playmaker who can generate turnovers and get physical with the SEC's best receivers.
Coleman was burned again in the O&W game when Da'Rick Rogers got him downfield, but that goes along with the territory of playing aggressively. If he settles in the way coaches believe he can, Coleman may have all this good practice work translate into a nice career as a starting corner.