The Vols begin fall camp on Monday and the season is now exactly one month away. It’s exciting but camp is a serious grind. To get you prepared for the next 30 days, here are four big things to watch for during Tennessee’s preseason practices.
4. Position Battles
Who will start in the Vols’ secondary? Who will be the preeminent wide receivers in 2016? Who will be the defensive end that starts across from Derek Barnett? We will hopefully find out the answers to all of these questions in the next few weeks. Tennessee’s roster is deep and experienced but there are still definite question marks for who will get every starting position. Butch Jones knows his starting quarterback, running backs, one defensive end, one linebacker, and one cornerback, but everything else is seemingly up for grabs to a certain extent. Finding out who takes those spots should be a lot of fun.
3. Bob Shoop’s Defense
Butch Jones made one of the best hires in America during the offseason when he grabbed Bob Shoop from Penn State to be his defensive coordinator. Shoop has had a top 25 defensive unit nationally each of the last five years. He inherits a set of players that is filled with All-American-level upperclassmen and blue-chip underclassmen. If this roster is utilized correctly, things could get ugly for the offenses that Tennessee takes on. Make no mistake, things will look different for the defense over last season’s squad. Coach Shoop told FOX Sports Knoxville, “One thing I think I bring a little bit more to the table is a little bit more of an aggressive mentality on defense.” During fall practices, we’ll be looking for that aggression and how it could benefit or hurt the Vols in the coming season.
2. Passing Game
If the Vols want to break through to the big time in 2016, quarterback Josh Dobbs has to become a better down-field passer. It’s that simple. Four of the top five leaders in receiving yards return from last season and additions like JUCO transfer Jeff George and incoming freshman Tyler Byrd give Dobbs a number of quality options at wideout. Everyone will be watching closely to see if Dobbs’ accuracy and throwing ability have improved. If he is markedly better, that will be a big sign that things will move in the right direction for Tennessee in what could be the program’s biggest season in more than a decade.
1. The New Guys
Fall camp will be the first time many players on Tennessee’s roster get a taste of big-time college football. The pressure, the media coverage, and the relentless heat of summer practice is unlike anything many new players have experienced. We’ll see the debut of players like dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, safety Nigel Warrior, and defensive end Jonathan Kongbo. Any number of these newcomers could emerge as potential stars or show that they’re a long way from seeing playing time. Either way, this will be one of the most compelling story lines during preseason practices.