By Jimmy Hyams
The starting lineup for Tennessee’s offense and defense during the spring game won’t be the same as the one that opens against West Virginia in Charlotte.
In fact, there could be as many as 10 different starters on Sept. 1.
SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy said the number could be a dozen.
That, of course, depends on who’s healthy and who’s not.
Tennessee held 12 players held out of the spring game, some for injuries, some as a precaution.
Tennessee also has 14 newcomers that will arrive this summer, and the Vols have signed two grad transfers – and they’re pursing more. One or two could start.
Offensive lineman Trey Smith will start for sure, if he’s cleared from his undisclosed medical condition. He’s arguably the best player on the team. He could start at guard or tackle.
Another offensive lineman, Chance Hall, would likely start at right tackle, if healthy. But there’s a chance that Chance might not play again due to his knee.
There’s an outside chance junior college tackle Jahmir Johnson will start, if he’s as good as projected.
Wide receiver Jauan Jennings, if reinstated after being dismissed in November, would be one of the few playmakers on offense. He caught 40 passes in 2016.
While tight end Eli Wolf was the team’s most improved offensive player and had five catches in the spring game, Dominick Wood-Anderson, a junior college All-American, might start. Wood-Anderson is 6-5, 240 and can block and catch. Most of UT’s current tight ends can do one or the other – not both.
Daniel Bituli, who led the team in tackles last year, and Darrin Kirkland Jr., will start at linebacker, if healthy. Both missed the spring game. Kirkland missed last season. One SEC coach told me Bituli should be a second-team All-SEC player.
J.J. Peterson, the prize high-school catch in the recruiting class, might be good enough to earn a job at outside linebacker.
In the secondary, Todd Kelly Jr., a two-year starter who missed most of last season with a knee injury, could start.
Grad transfer quarterback Keller Chryst will have a shot at winning the quarterback job over incumbent Jarrett Guarantano, who didn’t exactly get a vote of confidence from coach Jeremy Pruitt after being named MVP the spring game.
It’s unlikely grad transfer running back Madre London of Michigan State, who rushed for almost 1,000 yards in three seasons, will start over Ty Chandler, but he could push Chandler.
That’s 11 possibilities.
Those likely to start, and likely to be healthy, are Smith, Kirkland, Bituli, Wood-Anderson and Jennings (if reinstated).
That’s only five, but those are five potential difference makers on a team without much star power.