This is my team, this is my school. Nothing gets my blood going for sports more than hearing Rocky Top, the Tennessee Waltz, or the immortal words, “It’s football time in Tennessee!”
Though as I preview and go through a season, I try to take off the orange tinted glasses and take a look at how the team will do and what are their true strengths and weaknesses.
So much of Team 121’s success could ride of who will get the majority of snaps at quarterback. Both junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guaratano have been vying for the starting position, trying to replace the popular and dynamic Joshua Dobbs. What makes this quarterback competition interesting is how different Dormady and Guaratano are. Dormady has a bit more experience and a stronger arm, while Guaratano is more mobile. The zone-read scheme that Butch Jones brings is usually more effective with a mobile quarterback, however that QB has to be a good leader as well. I believe both guys will get plenty of snaps in the first few games but Dormady will start them. As the season progresses we will see who comes out on top.
At the skill positions, the Vols have some really good talent but not much game experience overall. John Kelly emerged as a solid runner after Jalen Hurd quit the team. Now with Alvin Kamara off to the NFL, the job is all Kelly’s. Hopefully top prospect Ty Chandler can spell Kelly for a few series a game.
At receiver you have some of the same story. Jauan Jennings is a top talent and made plenty of remarkable catches last season. However Josh Malone was the top receiver last year so now it is Jennings turn to step into that role. Jennings will have some help with experienced TE Ethan Wolf, we just need to see if Tyler Bryd and Marquez Callaway can contribute.
The offensive line has had 111 combined career starts, though consistency has been a major problem. Adding number one recruit Trey Smith into the mix should help.
Last year, Bob Shoop’s defense was almost to Sal Sunseri levels of lousy by the end of the season. Yes the injury bug bit the Vols hard, but that does not make up for the excuses of poor tackling, bad alignments, and lack of true physicality.
On the defensive line, not only do the Vols have to replace all-time sack leader Derek Barnett, but the reliable Corey Vereen. Many see the defensive line as a real weakness this season, however I almost see it as a strength if things play out correctly. With the departure of Barnett I almost think the players on the line will now not look to him to always be there to make the play, so they will all have to step up and do that. Of course that will mean that Jonathan Kongbo, Kahlil McKenzie, and Shy Tuttle will have to live up to their potential.
At linebacker you have Darrin Kirkland Jr. who is injured again so we shall see when he can come back, plus Colton Jumper who has gotten plenty of vigor from the Vol faithful but has become a reliable linebacker.
In the secondary, again the potential is there with Todd Kelly Jr being the most reliable, but Nigel Warrior, Justin Martin, and Rashaan Gauldan will have to get more consistent. The addition of Louisville graduate transfer Shaq Wiggins will be key.
Punter Trevor Daniel just needs to keep doing awesome and that will be fine. Meanwhile, Aaron Medley needs to get better at long field goals in a hurry. Medley is 9 for 25 beyond 40 yards and 0 for 5 from 50 plus. If Evan Berry can stay healthy this season, the return game will be another big weapon for the Vols.
So many people just do not know what to think of the Tennessee Volunteers this season. The range of record guessing is between 9-3 to 5-7. So much really rides on how good Tennessee does at quarterback and on defense. If those are great the Vols will be just fine, if not, then Butch Jones may have to take his bricks elsewhere. As for me, the game against Florida in week 3 looms large. If Tennessee con go to the swamp and knock off the Gators at their place then something special might happen. Right now I see the Vols with another 9-4 season beating another middling Big Ten (or ACC team if it is the Belk Bowl) in a bowl game.
Enjoy the season everyone and GO VOLS!!!