Posted: 12:00 p.m. Monday, July 22, 2013
By Will Shelton
With all the current hype surrounding the 2014 class, it's easy to forget we've also got another crop of brand new faces we haven't even seen yet. The 2013 class finished 21st instead of 1st and much of the chatter surrounded who we didn't get, but the Vols have plenty of openings for immediate impact. Of the five four-star players UT signed, four should have a chance to compete for immediate playing time; Austin Sanders has the good fortune of learning behind the best offensive line in the conference.
So who will make the biggest impact in Butch Jones' first season? The biggest opportunity seems to be at wide receiver, where Marquez North, Paul Harris, and Ryan Jenkins should all have a chance to get in the mix right away. The Vols are without question looking for playmakers - more on that later in our questions - and with no established targets returning in the passing game, any or all of those guys should get their chance to shine. It's unfair to expect a huge breakout season from any of them, though with Harris in in the spring and North the highest rated incoming prospect it's easy for us to get excited. Also, don't forget about A.J. Branisel and Woody Quinn at tight end.
Much of the productivity at wide receiver will depend on productivity at quarterback. If the answer isn't Justin Worley or Nathan Peterman, both Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs could get a chance right away this season. Everybody loves a freshman quarterback, and it will be interesting to see how long both fans and coaching staff are patient with Worley, if he holds the job, against a brutal schedule with developing targets.
On the defensive side of the ball, a few names stand out. Defensive end Jason Carr at 6'6" 280 was one of UT's most important gets as the Vols look for another dominant lineman, and with questions at that position Carr could get in the mix immediately. We saw Corey Vereen make an instant impact in spring practice; it'll be interesting to see what Vereen can do with the linebacking corps back to full strength this fall and if he can make a real impact in the game. And in a secondary where all returning players have been burned already, can Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Lemond Johnson, Riyahd Jones, Malik Foreman, or someone else make a positive impact in the secondary.
These young freshman don't have to win awards, they just need to make things better. The class may have lacked the firepower of what we're seeing right now, but there are still plenty of chances for some of these guys to get in the fight. So who will we see make a difference for the Vols this fall?