Saturday's Orange & White Game marks the conclusion of spring football for the Tennessee Volunteers. Sports editor Cliff Chartrand and assistant sports editor Clay Culp will spend the rest of this week giving a position-by-position outlook for Saturday.
Chartrand previewed the offensive line and special teams on Wednesday, while Culp took a look at the defensive front seven Thursday and the secondary Friday. Chartrand completes the series with a look at the offensive skill positions.
The Vols return every key contributor at running back and wide receiver from last season, but will be forced to deal with the graduation of a key senior at both quarterback and tight end.
Quarterback Erik Ainge completed his up-and-down career with two straight solid seasons, while Chris Brown finished his career by tying for the team lead with six touchdown catches last season.
However, the Vols should be able to deal with the losses because of some young talent that has yet to receive a chance to shine at Tennessee.
The offensive key to Tennessee making another run at the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title will likely be the play of quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
The first-year starter has shown his ability to throw the deep ball during his limited playing time over the past two seasons, but his decision-making has been questioned by some.
Crompton, a highly touted recruit out of North Carolina, threw two interceptions on only 12 pass attempts while backing up Ainge last season. He has also thrown five picks with only two touchdown tosses during scrimmage play this spring.
However, the junior does present an upgrade over his predecessor in some ways. Vol fans will undoubtedly notice Crompton has a much stronger arm than Ainge, evidenced by his two bombs to Robert Meachem for touchdowns against LSU in 2006.
The junior will also bring mobility to the quarterback position, something not seen since Brent Schaeffer was scrambling around the backfield in 2004. Crompton ran the ball for two touchdowns in the team's scrimmage last week.
Waiting in the wings behind Crompton are sophomore Nick Stephens and freshman B.J. Coleman. Stephens has had a very consistent spring with no interceptions and solid completion precentage, while Coleman was a four-star recruit out of Chattanooga before redshirting last year.
Arian Foster's decision to return to school for his senior season means he will finish as Tennessee's all-time leading rusher barring unforeseen circumstances. However, after a breakout freshman campaign one could argue Foster has disappointed the last two seasons.
He has coughed up the ball in several key spots and has shown a tendency to run sideways far too much. Still, he has shown an ability to carry the ball 20-plus times per game and will be the main workhorse this season.
Montario Hardesty has shown tons of ability. He just hasn't been able to stay healthy. Not surprisingly, the junior is hurt once again this spring.
The most dynamic player in the backfield for the Vols could be Lennon Creer. The sophomore flashed some big play ability both running the ball and returning kicks last season, and he should see an increased role this year with Hardesty's injury troubles.
True freshman Tauren Poole graduated high school a semester early to enroll at Tennessee and participate in spring drills. He has rushed for 54 yards while playing in two of the Vols scrimmages.
The Vols return their three leading pass catchers from last season in seniors Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe and junior Austin Rogers. The trio combined for 185 catches, including 15 for touchdowns, in 2007.
Taylor has missed spring practice due to an injury and Briscoe and Rogers have only seen limited reps in scrimmage play, but the group is expected to provide a high level of consistency out wide.
The wide receiver unit could go from solid to spectacular if three players who came to Tennessee prior to last season play up to their potential. Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore and Ahmad Paige were all part of the Vols' superb recruiting class in 2007.
Jones showed off his hands late last season with a big touchdown grab against Kentucky and displayed his running ability while lining up at quarterback in the "G-Gun" formation.
Moore also flashed some pass-catching skills by hauling in 14 passes from Ainge. Paige redshirted last season but has shown his talent this spring with 10 catches for 99 yards over the past two scrimmages.
Another X-factor could be Quintin Hancock, the team's leader with 13 grabs in this spring's scrimmages. The junior has been a spring practice star during his time at Tennessee, but that has yet to translate to the regular season.
However, if he can build on last season's 16-catch, three-touchdown season it would help the Vols offense immensely.
The Vols top two options at tight end both graduated following last season. Brown had 41 catches as Ainge's safety valve last year, while Brad Cottam returned for the final five games of the season after a preseason injury and showed some big-play ability.
Jeff Cottam and Luke Stocker are the tight end options for the Vols at the moment. Both players had four catches with one touchdown last season.
They will be joined next season by freshman Aaron Douglas. Brandon Warren, who left the team at Florida State to come back closer to home, could also be joining the tight end unit once fall rolls around.
Skill Position outlook
New offensive co-ordinator Dave Clawson and the rest of the new offensive coaching staff obviously has a tough job to do replacing David Cutcliffe, but the talent is there for the offense to be special.
Crompton will be the key. He has a consistent group of running backs and receivers to distribute the ball to, and as long as he exhibits some semblance of ball security, the offense should be solid under a slew of new coaches.
If that happens, and young players such as Creer, Jones and Paige provide the team with the big plays they're capable of bringing to the table, the offense will be the most dynamic Tennessee fans have seen in years.
Saturday provides the Vol faithful with an early opportunity to get a glimpse of that potential.
Editor's note: Austin Rogers was injured during spring practice and will not play in the Orange & White Game.