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Spring Check-In: Tennessee

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Tigers head back to Rocky Top this November, and we discuss the Vols’ spring practice with Rocky Top Talk’s Terry Lambert.

1. Tennessee and LSU don't face off very often. How are Vol fans viewing this game being on the schedule?

I don't think Tennessee fans are too excited for this one. The Vols are in for a potential down year, so catching LSU and Alabama out of the west stings a little. It's out of character for Tennessee to play such a big game late, too. They usually finish with Kentucky and Vanderbilt, so this offers a little different dynamic.

2. What would be the best way to summarize spring practice for Tennessee?

Transition. I don't think it's a total rebuild here, but Tennessee lost a lot of core contributors and long time leaders in some key spots. They're finding new options at quarterback and defensive end — replacing Josh Dobbs and Derek Barnett. Replacing voices like Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cam Sutton won't be easy either.

3. Vols have a new coordinator and are replacing a number of playmakers on offense. How are things looking on that side of the ball?

It's all driven by the quarterback. As I mentioned, Josh Dobbs was an undoubted leader on this team, so Quinten Dormady or Jarrett Guarantano will have to step into that role. Dormady was perfect in the Orange and White Game (literally, 10-10 for 120 yards and 2 TDs) and took the lead in the battle. John Kelly should be a top back this year in the SEC, running behind a veteran offensive line. Jauan Jennings will be the go to guy on the outside for the Vols, but they'll need Tyler Byrd or Marquez Calloway to emerge as a second dynamic threat.

4. How are you feeling about the defense?

To be blunt, concerned. They lost a lot of talent off of a defensive unit that badly underperformed last season, so I think they are doing a little soul searching this offseason. Big talents like Kahlil McKenzie, Shy Tuttle and Jonathan Kongbo absolutely have to step up or the Vols are in trouble up front. I think the Vols are decent at linebacker, but still thin. Safety play should be pretty good with Todd Kelly Jr. and Micah Abernathy returning, but there are plenty of questions at cornerback. Justin Martin and Emmanuel Mosley will have to elevate their play after a rough ending to 2016 on the outside. Maybe Louisville transfer Shaq Wiggins can give them a boost.

5. Is there any sense that it might be now or never for Butch Jones? Is the pressure real up there in Knoxville?

The pitchforks were out in November last year after the Vandy loss — deservedly so. 2016 was supposed to be the year for Tennessee to finally be "back." It just didn't happen. The blowout loss to Alabama seemed to spiral the season out of control. I think fans lost a lot of confidence in Butch and will turn on him quick if things go south this year. Personally, I think he's been great for restoring the talent in Knoxville, but I don't think he's the guy that gets Tennessee over the hump.