The Tennessee Volunteers open spring practice on Saturday, and it will be a new beginning for a proud program that has taken its lumps over the last few seasons.
First and foremost, the Vols are under the direction of a new head coach. Butch Jones was hired to replace the fired Derek Dooley at the end of 2012. Jones, the former head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats, has brought a message of discipline and accountability to Knoxville. He also brings a style of play that will be new to the majority of his team.
Also gone is three-year starting quarterback Tyler Bray. In 2012, Bray started all 12 games for Tennessee, hitting on 268-of-451 through the air for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns. During his career in Knoxville, Bray passed for 7,444 yards and 69 touchdowns, with 28 interceptions.
Also gone from last season’s team are playmaking wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Hunter led the Vols with 1,083 yards receiving last season, and with nine touchdown catches. Patterson was Mr. Everything for Tennessee in 2012. He caught 46 passes for 778 yards and five scores. He also rushed 25 times for 308 yards and three touchdowns. Patterson returned four punts for 101 yards and a touchdown. And he returned 24 kickoffs for 671 yards and another score.
Tennessee must find replacements for all of these players, most notably Bray. Among the potential replacements are returnee Justin Worley, who will be a junior in 2013. Last season, Worley played in five games, hitting on 15-of-23 through the air for 134 yards, with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
Also in the mix for the starting quarterback job will be 2013 signee Joshua Dobbs. The 6-3, 190-pound Dobbs was rated as a four-star prospect by nearly every recruiting service, and he fits the style that Jones wants to play.
The Vols must answer many questions before the 2013 season begins. Jones and his staff hope that the upcoming season can be a springboard to lift Tennessee back to elite status in the Southeastern Conference and on the national scene.