Spring practice means there are starting jobs up for grabs across the country and the SEC is no different. On Wednesday, we began a series looking at key position battles for each SEC team; we continue that with a look at Tennessee:
1. Left tackle: With longtime starting left tackle Kyler Kerbyson gone, Tennessee finds itself with a hole at the most important position along the offensive line. While it could take time for someone to find a groove at left tackle, the Vols could actually benefit from having a more athletic body taking over for Kerbyson. With right tackle Chance Hall out this spring with an injury, Brett Kendrick moved over from the left to the right side, leaving sophomore Drew Richmond to battle senior Dontavius Blair at that open left tackle spot. Richmond, who redshirted last year, could be the future at this position, but he’s moving from the right side. Richmond is arguably the most talented and has the most upside, but it's all about putting it together, which started to happen during bowl practices. The coaches could move him back to right tackle if it doesn’t work out, which would change the competition here again.
2. Wide receiver: Josh Malone and Josh Smith probably have their positions as the No. 1 receiver and the slot receiver nailed down, but that No. 2 spot is still very much in question. Guys such as Jauan Jennings and Preston Williams will get every opportunity to earn this spot, with Williams possibly having the most athleticism among the receivers group. Though he only started one game and had 158 yards and two touchdowns last season, the sophomore has big breakout potential. Jennings only started six games and had 149 yards, but increased work with quarterback Joshua Dobbs has helped his development so far this spring. Junior college transfer Jeff George will also get a shot, and while he doesn't have FBS experience, he does have more production in his past than the other two, as he registered 1,375 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons at the juco level.
3. Safety: The loss of Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil has Tennessee searching for two suitable players to patrol the middle of the secondary. The good news is that there's a lot of speed and pure talent there; it's all about getting guys reps. However, the Vols are without Evan Berry this spring, taking a key body out of the competition for now. Junior Todd Kelly Jr. was supposed to be one of the favorites here because of his experience, but it's been a fight back there so far, especially with Rashaan Gaulden starting the spring with the first team after missing all of last season with an injury. Sophomores Micah Abernathy and Stephen Griffin are also getting reps at safety this spring. Abernathy had a very strong start to the spring and has a lot of upside, especially in coverage, after moving from cornerback.