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Vol Players Who Need to Impress in Spring Practices


Photo by Nathanael Rutherford/RTI

1. J.J. Peterson, LB
2. Savion Williams, DL
3. Emmit Gooden, DL
4. Jordan Allen, OLB
5. Trevon Flowers, S
6. Alontae Taylor, CB

There’s no question that linebacker J.J. Peterson needs to step up this spring. In fact, probably nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is facing more pressure to turn out an impressive spring than Peterson.

Peterson was the Vols’ highest-rated signee in Pruitt’s first class in the 2018 cycle, but he’s yet to deliver on that hype. He joined UT extremely late in 2018, finally getting on campus the week after the Vols’ first game of the season. Because of that, he only played in four games as a freshman and redshirted. Last season didn’t go much better, as Peterson was relegated to a bench role and played sparingly on defense, mostly seeing time on special teams. He totaled just 11 tackles in 13 games.

With Quavaris Crouch out this spring and with a severe lack of bodies at the inside linebacker spot, it’s essentially now or never for Peterson. He needs to make a name for himself this spring or risk falling to the wayside as UT welcomes in more linebackers this summer.

Another player in trouble of getting lost in a shuffle of bodies is Savion Williams. The JUCO transfer joined the Vols in the 2019 class as a heralded defensive lineman and a potential plug-and-play body. Instead, he didn’t record a tackle after the first two weeks of the season and made just seven stops in seven appearances on the year.

Aubrey Solomon, Greg Emerson, Matthew Butler, and LaTrell Bumphus all had successful 2019 seasons, and all are well ahead of Williams on the depth chart. With early enrollee Dominic Bailey joining the fray this spring and Omari Thomas set to join the roster in the summer, Williams is only going to face more competition for playing time. He has to find a way to break through in the spring.

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Staying on the defensive line, Emmit Gooden could use a solid showing as well. Gooden was penciled in as a starter for the Vols last season before suffering a season-ending injury in fall camp. If he’s fully recovered, this spring will be huge for him as he tries to battle back into the rotation. Gooden has the ability to still be a starter, but he’s going to have to win back that role after several linemen impressed in 2019.

At outside linebacker, this spring is much the same for Jordan Allen as it is J.J. Peterson. It’s put up or shut up time for the former JUCO transfer. Allen got unlucky last season when an injury sidelined him after he elected not to transfer out of UT’s program, as he appeared in line to compete for some playing time as a pass rusher.

This spring, Tennessee will have Kivon Bennett and Deandre Johnson as their two main pass rushers competing for time at outside linebacker. Allen has an opportunity to thrust himself into that conversation with only Roman Harrison to compete with besides those two. Allen needs to show improvement and consistency this spring if he’s to make an impact in 2020, because the Vols welcome in four-stars Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph to the outside linebacker room in the summer and fall.

In the secondary, both Trevon Flowers and Alontae Taylor could use an impressive spring as well. Flowers suffered another injury last season that caused him to miss the remainder of the year after the Mississippi State game. Flowers had appeared to finally be turning a corner in his sophomore campaign, picking off a pass in that game and totaling 17 stops in his seven games. In his absence, Theo Jackson and Jaylen McCollough fought for the starting role alongside Nigel Warrior. Both of those safeties figure to battle for starting jobs this spring, and Flowers needs to have a good spring to factor in. Plus, Tennessee is welcoming in four-star Keshawn Lawrence in the summer, and he has the capability of starting at safety as a true freshman.

Alontae Taylor struggled in 2019, but he improved as the season went along. Freshman Warren Burrell pushed Taylor for playing time and started alongside him while Bryce Thompson was suspended. Taylor had some major gaffes early in the year, but he started playing better down the stretch. But he needs to show out in the spring in order to secure his starting spot and keep Burrell and Kenneth George Jr. at bay. The aforementioned Keshawn Lawrence can also play corner, and he could push for playing time there, too.

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