What to watch for during the Orange and White Game
KNOXVILLE — Rosters for the Orange and White Game have been released, and it brings some of Tennessee’s position battles into clearer view.
First-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt has been relatively tight-lipped this spring when it has come to praising individual players, and, as an extension, exactly how things are shaking out at key position groups.
The “Orange” team consists of the first-team offense, led by quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, and the second-team defense. They will face the “White” team, which boasts the second-team offense and a first-team defense that will showcase Jonathan Kongbo, Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips and Darrell Taylor in the Vols’ new-look 3-4 scheme.
Tennessee will be without a number of important players for the exhibition that will likely contribute this fall, but today still offers a glimpse at what Pruitt and his coaching staff are envisioning, at least now, for the Vols.
Here is a list of some key positions and players to watch today:
Pruitt bristled at questions about the secondary depth early in his tenure, snapping back at a question pertaining to the Vols recruitment of the position on signing day with, ‘Who said defensive back was a position of need?’
With some of the personnel changes — most notably the experimentation with Tyler Byrd in the secondary and more recently the switch of Alontae Taylor from receiver to defensive back — it is clear that the backend of Tennessee’s defense is a concern.
Nigel Warrior, Micah Abernathy and Toddy Kelly Jr. have played a lot football in their careers, but Saturday is an opportunity for Marquill Osborne, Shawn Shamburger and Terrell Bailey to impress the coaching staff in a game-like situation.
How will they handle the stage and the new scheme after 14 practices?
The redshirt sophomore quarterback has had an entire spring to make an impression on the new coaching staff without graduate transfer Keller Chryst standing behind him.
The New Jersey native was shaky in his first season. He completed 86 of 139 pass attempts (61.87 percent) for 997 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He missed the Missouri game to injury, and struggled in the final two weeks of the season against LSU and Vanderbilt as he dealt with nagging injuries behind a patchwork offensive line.
With a winter in the weight room and an offensive coordinator doubling as his quarterbacks coach, it will be interesting to see if Guarantano has been able to improve his decision making and accuracy over the last five months.
How Guarantano performs will, in part, be dictated by how this group plays.
The group’s lack of depth has been well documented this spring, and the first-team unit will be without Trey Smith or Chance Hall today.
Drew Richmond, Joey Cave, Riley Locklear, Marcus Tatum, Ryan Johnson and Jerome Carvin will comprise a first-team unit that has 22 total starts between them. Joey Cave is a redshirt sophomore and Carvin is an early enrollee.
The second team unit is even less experienced. Greg Emerson and Eric Crosby are defensive linemen the coaching staff moved to the offensive line a few weeks ago to bolster depth. Ollie Lane is an early enrollee and Michael Raymond is unlisted on the spring roster or online. Nathan Niehaus, Joe Keller, Brian Garvey and K’Rojhn Calbert are all redshirts who have yet to play a college snap. Devante Brooks’ four starts at the end of last season make him the lone player with any college experience on his resume.
How those two units handle the pressure on the biggest stage many of them have seen will go a long way in how the scrimmage goes for Tennessee’s offenses.
It is an area that has not been discussed much with Pruitt this spring, given a new coaching staff, a banged up offensive line, a new defensive scheme and all the position switches.
It is definitely something worth keeping an eye on, nevertheless. Tennessee’s punter, Trevor Daniel, and kicker, Aaron Medley, from the past three seasons have gone. Sophomore Brent Cimaglia did kick some last season, finishing the year 8-for-13. But the long kicking game was something he struggled with, making just 1 of 5 from 40 yards or beyond.
Redshirt freshman punter Joe Doyle, from Farragut, is on the “Orange” team while freshman Paxton Brooks will handle the punting duties for the “White” team. Brooks is one of the top punting prospects in the country and joined the program in January. There won’t be any kicker or punter challenges on Saturday, but Tennessee will do some special teams, so it’s a big chance for all the specialists to end spring on a positive note.
Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Daniel Bituli are both listed on the “White” first-team defensive roster, but it is unlikely that either will see the field. In there place, Quart’e Sapp and Will Ignot will likely play middle linebacker in Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme. How do they handle it?
Sapp finished fourth on the team last season in tackles, but it is a new scheme, and Ignot has no game experience at the college level.
The redshirt freshman from Alabama did not play last season, but has clearly shown enough to Pruitt and inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer to get the nod in the spring game.