And just like that, the 2019 Spring Game is upon us.
Yes, it’s here. Jeremy Pruitt’s second year as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers will officially kick off on Saturday.
Even though it’s basically a glorified practice amongst teammates, what we see on Saturday could trickle into the season.
Josh Palmer and Tim Jordan had strong performances during last year’s Spring Game and both players went on to have big roles in 2018. Quinten Dormady looked great in 2017 and eventually won the starting job heading into the season.
So what should you keep an eye on when the action kicks off on Saturday?
Let’s dive in.
1. The offensive line
It doesn’t take much to realize how bad Tennessee’s offensive line has been over the past few years.
The unit has been the weak spot on the offense - and possibly the entire team - but a strong 2019 recruiting class may give it the juice it needs to finally become a factor on Saturdays.
Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright, both 5-star recruits, will help anchor the line. Brandon Kennedy should be back to man the center position and maybe - hopefully - Trey Smith will return, but that’s a different story for another day.
Regardless of Smith’s return, the Vols will have some of the best talent on the offensive line than they’ve had in years. If they can gel quickly, then the entire offense will benefit greatly.
Saturday should shed some light on the new-look unit.
2. Jarrett Guarantano
While Guarantano may actually be more important than the offensive line, he can’t do anything if he’s on his back for the majority of games, so we’ll just consider that debate a tie for now.
This is the first offseason that he will enter the offseason as the incumbent quarterback. There will be no competition like the past two years. Guarantano will be under the spotlight, but at least he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder at the same time.
Hopefully the vote of confidence from the coaching staff will give him the extra drive - it’s not like he needed it - to take his game to the next level.
Look for him to make quicker reads, better presnap adjustments, and more accurate throws on corner routes. If he can show that he’s improved in those areas, then the Guarantano hype train will officially be on the tracks.
3. The front seven
The Vols will also have questions on the defensive front this season. Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips, Jonathan Kongbo, Alexis Johnson Jr., and Paul Bain have all left the program. The remaining players are mostly young or unproven - but talented - underclassmen that will need to step it up.
Tennessee did increase its sack total from 21 in 2017 to 24 in 2018, but there’s obviously so much more room for improvement in that regard.
Both J.J. Peterson and Quavaris Crouch should be on display, which is exciting to think about. They are the epitome of what Pruitt looks for in players, so the picture should become a bit clearer when those two hit the field.
The defensive line will also be interesting to watch, especially at the nose, or 0-tech position. If the Vols want any success up front, it will start there.
Now I understand that it may seem counterintuitive to put two opposing sides as something to watch for during a scrimmage, but they don’t have to beat the snot out of each other to determine whether there is improvement. Each side can win highly-contested battles and show that there is indeed hope on the horizon.
But what will you be watching for on Saturday? Let us know in the comments below!