College football officially starts on Aug. 24, but Tennessee will have to wait until the 31st to begin the season. This is a crucial season for the Vols, as Jeremy Pruitt enters his second season on Rocky Top. Tennessee also begins the season with two new coordinators. Jim Chaney returns to Knoxville for the second time, taking over the offense after Tyson Helton left to become the head coach of Western Kentucky.
During Chaney’s time at Georgia, its offense was prolific, leading the SEC in rushing two years straight, as well as putting out two great quarterbacks in Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason. The Vols also hired Derrick Ansley to lead the defense.
Ansley was a part of the Oakland Raiders’ staff last year, where he coached defensive backs. Before that stint, he helped coach defense alongside Pruitt at Alabama, where they had some of the best defenses in the country during their time.
With a bit of change for the Vols, they look to be a different team as they head into Pruitt’s second year. This week, we will do a series of the most important position groups on this year’s team. These rankings will be based on how successful the Vols can be if this position group balls out.
There are two position groups that could make an argument to be considered in this ranking.
The first one is the tight ends. During Chaney’s time as an offensive coordinator, he’s been known to put an emphasis on the tight ends, implementing them into the passing game. If you’ve watched Georgia over the past three years, you’d notice how involved Isaac Nauta has been, in both the passing game and rushing attack.
The Vols have a good number of TEs returning, including Dominick Wood-Anderson. Wood-Anderson showed glimpses of his excellence last season and will have a greater chance of being involved in the offense with Chaney. Austin Pope will likely see an increase in playing time, as well, with the transfer of Eli Wolf. Princeton Fant, Jackson Lowe, Sean Brown, and Jacob Warren can all make the argument to see some action this year at tight end, too.
The second position deserving of an honorable mention is the quarterback position. I do realize that the quarterback position is very important for nearly every team, but with only one person starting in that position group, it’s hard to put it over the other groups that will be on this list.
I feel confident in Jarrett Guarantano this season, but we will see. For the sake of the Vols and the fan base, I hope that JG balls out. I also hope there is no need to talk about putting another quarterback in the game because of the lack of success. Even if Tennessee has to do that, they have two backups that have potential. Both J.T. Shrout and Brian Maurer have been battling it out for the backup position, and both guys have looked good in fall camp. With that, it brings me to part one of the most important position groups for the Vols this season.
No. 5 – Secondary
As I mentioned, you can make the argument that the tight ends and quarterbacks can be in this spot, but the secondary will be very important. If the secondary can produce, they will have a good chance of flipping the script from last season. The Vols have a number of guys that can make the argument to start either at cornerback or safety.
The Vols are fairly young in this position, which can both hurt or help them. Nigel Warrior, Baylen Buchanan, Shawn Shamburger, and Theo Jackson are the only upperclassman in the secondary. Warrior will likely get the start at the safety position as he heads into his senior season. Jackson will likely see action at safety, but will have to battle it out with Trevon Flowers. When he wasn’t injured, Flowers showed some promise as a true freshman.
Tennessee can be strong at CB. Buchanan heads into his senior year and makes a good argument for a starting spot after posting 49 tackles and a team-high four pass deflections last season. Shamburger will likely see action at corner. Both Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor will likely start at cornerback after they both balled out during their freshman seasons. Thompson and Taylor are ball hawks and will be a strong point for the Vols defense this season. Thompson led the team with three interceptions last season, while Taylor forced two fumbles and had a huge touchdown in last year’s upset against Auburn.
True freshman Jerrod Means and Warren Burrell have had a great fall camp and will see action this season, likely at corner.
At the money position in the dime package, true freshman Jaylen McCollough could see action. McCollough balled-out in the Orange and White Game when he had two interceptions. Cheyenne Labruzza and Tyus Fields will likely see action in the secondary.
Tennessee has struggled in the secondary throughout the past few seasons. They were very young last year, starting a number of true freshmen in the secondary. That will hopefully pay off this season, as a number of those guys come into this season with some experience. If the Vols’ secondary can perform well, watch out for the Vols to surprise people around the country.