KNOXVILLE – With gaping holes on the depth chart at a few spots, it was a foregone conclusion that UT would lean on several newcomers in the 2013 season.
We took our best stab at who those guys would be in one of our season previews in July. Some, such as wide receiver Marquez North and quarterback Joshua Dobbs, played a large role as predicted. Others, such as tight end Woody Quinn and cornerback Riyahd Jones, didn’t get nearly the playing time we thought they would.
And then there were other surprises. Cornerback Cameron Sutton, not listed in our preseason top 10, started every game and made a huge impact in his first season in Knoxville
Here’s our postseason ranking of the newcomers for Tennessee in 2013 with some thoughts on their futures as well:
1. WR Marquez North
The highest-ranked recruit in this class didn’t disappoint. North became UT’s go-to receiver by the middle of the season and ended the year as the Vols’ most production receiver in terms of yards with 496, despite missing most of the last two games with an injury. His one-handed grab against South Carolina was arguably the play of the year for the Vols. Even though they are bringing in more talent at receiver next year, North should be a huge part of the passing game for the next couple of years.
2. CB Cameron Sutton
Playing time was there for the taking at his position and it was Sutton, a three-star recruit out of high school, who seized the opportunity. He had a few freshman moments, but overall was one of the team’s most dependable defenders. He led the team with nine passes defended and added 39 tackles, two fumble recoveries, a sack and two interceptions – one of which he returned for a touchdown. The Freshman All-SEC selection should have one of the cornerback spots locked down going into next year.
3. QB Joshua Dobbs
Quarterback injuries kept the carousel turning until Dobbs got his shot in the second half against Alabama. He relieved Justin Worley in that game and took over the starting position for the remaining four games with every other QB on the roster battling some form of injury. He had his ups and downs. He threw for 240 yards and ran for 45 in his starting debut at Missouri and had a stellar game in the finale at Kentucky. He struggled against Auburn and Vandy, however. Though he was a big part of UT’s 2013 story, the position is up for grabs again in 2014. Dobbs will have some confidence heading into the offseason, but Worley and freshman Riley Ferguson are expected to be true contenders for the starting spot as well.
4. DE Corey Vereen
He stood out last spring and he carried that effort into the fall, finding a way to break into the defensive line rotation despite UT’s depth and experience at defensive end coming into the year. He was mostly used in pass-rushing situations and he recorded a sack, 13 tackles, a pair of QB hurries and a pass deflection in his nine-game season. He debuted against Florida in September after being injured in fall camp. He should be in the discussion as a potential starter in 2014.
5. DB Devaun Swafford
Swafford wasn’t even listed on our preseason list due to his walk-on status. He saw the field regularly, however, appearing in every game and starting two at nickelback. As almost any true freshman walk-on would, he struggled at times, but also made some huge plays such as a pick-six at Florida and a recovered blocked punt for a TD against Georgia. He’ll face an uphill climb for more playing time with a lot of talent coming in at defensive back, but he was a big part of the 2013 story.
6. WR Johnathon Johnson
A late addition to the 2013 class after the coaching staff spotted him at Blinn Junior College late last spring, Johnson, a sophomore, carved a niche as a backup slot receiver and stepped up when injuries occurred. He was fourth on the team with 189 yards receiving. His battle for playing will continue next year with talented newcomers arriving.
7. WR Josh Smith
Most fans will remember him for a couple of key drops, but the freshman exceeded a lot of expectations overall, starting four games and appearing in all but one. He was fifth on the team in receiving yards with 182 and though he may not have the star potential of somebody like North, expect Smith to remain in the rotation in the coming seasons.
8. LB/DB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
He was one of the most consistent players on special teams and made a few appearances as a reserve on defense. He split time between safety and linebacker, but his most likely home is as an outside linebacker in the future. With the departure of OLBs Brent Brewer and Dontavis Sapp, Reeves-Maybin could be in line for more playing time next season.
9. TE A.J. Branisel
UT’s lack of depth at tight end made Branisel a regular contributor until his season was cut short with a torn ACL suffered against Vanderbilt. He made three catches for 28 yards, including a critical fourth-down conversion play in the fourth quarter of a tightly-contested loss to Georgia in October. He also recorded a 2-yard touchdown reception against South Alabama. If all goes well in his rehab, he should be back by the beginning of the 2014 season.
10. OL Dylan Wiesman
The only newcomer on the O-line to see the field in 2013, Wiesman was a pleasant surprise who is set to compete for a starting job at guard in 2014. His snaps were limited with UT’s veteran starters taking a vast majority of the work, but he got some late-game action and played on special teams as well.
11. CB Malik Foreman
Foreman was a second-team cornerback who also got some work on special teams. He recorded 10 tackles, a TFL and an interception in his limited action. One of the fastest players in the secondary, he should continue to get opportunities as he bulks up and learns the defense better.
12. DB Lemond Johnson
One of just three freshmen (Sutton, Swafford) to see the field in every game in 2013, Johnson was a regular on the kickoff coverage team, where he recorded three tackles. The Vols are adding several DBs in the upcoming recruiting class, meaning players like Foreman and Johnson must take a big step this offseason to see the field more.
13. DL Jason Carr
With defensive line depth hurting earlier in the season due to injuries, Carr stepped in as a reserve in the first three games and recorded one tackle in limited action. Defensive line coach Steve Stripling said he “hit the freshman wall” but bounced back to take some second-team reps in practice by the end of the season, though he never appeared in another game. He got some work at both end and tackle, but likely projects as a D-tackle going forward.
14. WR Paul Harris
He battled a nagging hamstring injury and appeared in just five games, making one catch for 15 yards. Few question his size (6-4, 200 pounds), but he’ll need to work on his speed, strength and his route running to become a consistent SEC wide receiver.
15. DE Jaylen Miller
Miller, like Carr, appeared in the first three games of the season as a reserve, but didn’t see the field again. Coaches praised his pass-rushing skills, but the return of Jacques Smith and Vereen from injury pushed him down the depth chart. He’ll have a chance to compete for more playing time next season.
16. CB Riyahd Jones
Thought to be the frontrunner to start at cornerback opposite of Justin Coleman, Jones, a junior college transfer, battled a leg injury in fall camp and never reached the level of significant contributor. Instead of redshirting, Jones made two brief appearances in late-season games, perhaps indicating that the coaching staff doesn't see enough potential in him to use a scholarship for two more seasons.
17. TE Woody Quinn
The JUCO transfer and former collegiate volleyball player looked the part of an SEC tight end, but never saw the field for any significant snaps, even with UT hurting at TE depth. Perhaps an offseason in a true football strength and conditioning program could put him in better position to contribute as a senior in 2014.
WR Ryan Jenkins
He battled a chronic knee injury all season and never saw the field and took very few reps at practice. He must get healthy before there’s any chance of him cracking the rotation at receiver.
QB Riley Ferguson
Ferguson was in position to get his chance in the middle of the season when a lower-leg injury kept him on the bench and preserved his redshirt. He has perhaps the most natural arm strength of any of the QBs on the roster and should be a factor in the QB battle throughout the offseason.
OL Austin Sanders
With UT’s experience up front and good fortune on the injury front at OL, Sanders had the luxury of redshirting. The Cleveland, Tenn., native spent a lot of time in the weight room over the fall and is now set to battle for playing time in the future.
OL Brett Kendrick
The Knoxville native was in the same boat as Sanders this season. He’s continuing to fill out his 6-foot-6 frame and with the mass exodus from the O-line this season, he’ll have a chance to crack the two-deep next year.
DE Kendal Vickers
The late addition to the 2013 class took the season to bulk up and improve his pass-rushing skills. With the top three defensive ends departing off the 2013 roster, there will be opportunities next year.
DE Malik Brown
Another defensive end who should get his opportunity with this senior class moving on.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga
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