Tennessee football position-by-position spring practice preview

AUBURN, AL – OCTOBER 13, 2018 – Defensive back Alontae Taylor #6 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Auburn Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, AL. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Tennessee football spring practice 2019 has arrived.

Year two should bring a different level of productivity for Jeremy Pruitt and his revamped coaching staff.

Here’s a position-by-position preview, listing scholarship players, on what to look for throughout 2019 spring football practice for the Vols.

Quarterbacks (3)
Jarrett Guarantano (R-Jr)
JT Shrout (R-Fr)
Brian Maurer (Fr)

Summer/Fall enrolls:
Position group combined games played/starts: 21/18

Vince’s View Position Outlook: What’s the relationship between Jarrett Guarantano, new QB coach Chris Weinke and new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney? Guarantano’s social media posts indicate his excitement in working with Chaney. He sounds ready to get to work on the practice field despite a third different OC in three years. Will we see any tweaks to Guarantano’s delivery, footwork or mechanics? Guarantano improved in those areas last season, but the ball still needs to come out quicker and he has to improve in recognizing pressures, although that’s not 100% on him. For Guarantano to be the effective team leader (without Trey Smith playing) he needs to take the next step as a player and become a Top 5 QB in the SEC. Pruitt praised Shrout’s arm strength last season. Let’s see what it looks like with another year of him in the S & C program filling out that thin frame. There’s obviously the intrigue of what the newcomer, freshman Brian Maurer, looks like.

Running Backs (5)
Ty Chandler (Jr)
Tim Jordan (Jr)
Carlin Fils-aime (Sr)
Jeremy Banks (So)
Princeton Fant (R-So)
Eric Gray (Fr)

Summer/Fall enrolls: None
Position group combined games played/starts: 79/14

Vince’s View Position Outlook: There’s a little projecting here with Jeremy Banks back at RB from LB. That hasn’t been announced. With Pruitt being non-committal on Banks’ position and this group otherwise not being very deep, this could be where Banks can make the most impact. With the addition of talented freshman Eric Gray, there is some talent here with different styles. Chandler has yet to be able to run behind a decent offensive line. He’s a home run threat every time he touches it, but at times doesn’t touch it enough. He topped the 100-yard mark just once last season. He’s a terrific receiver who was often under-utilized in the pass game as well. All of Chandler’s 19 receptions game in just 4 games in the middle of the season. Chaney’s offense, that adapts to his personnel, should alleviate that. That’s something to keep an eye on. How quickly can Gray show the look of a guy that will be a factor in the RB rotation this season with Chandler and Jordan? In the season, it will be interesting to see if Chaney uses more two-back sets than we’ve seen in previous years at UT. Put your best playmakers on the field. Health at this position this spring will be important. David Johnson moves from wide receivers coach to running backs coach.

Wide Receivers (11)
Marquez Callaway (Sr)
Jauan Jennings (R-Sr)
Josh Palmer (Jr)
Brandon Johnson (Sr)
Jordan Murphy (Jr)
Tyler Byrd (Sr)
Cedric Tillman (R-Fr)
Maleik Gray (R-So)
Latrell Williams (R-Jr)
Jacquez Jones (R-So)
Ramel Keyton (Fr)

Summer/Fall enrolls: 1-Jerrod Means (Fr)
Position group combined games played/starts: 187/67

Vince’s View Position Outlook: I’m really excited to see freshman Ramel Keyton. I think this kid will be terrific. He has size, speed, hands, productivity and competitiveness that you’re looking for. I think the staff would love for Keyton to come in and push the veteran receivers quickly. Will the veterans look any different in this offense and with the new coaching style of the accomplished Tee Martin? Chaney should be able to find ways to get Callaway and Jennings the ball in jump ball situations in the redzone. Will there be a jump in development in the group of experienced receivers? There needs to be, because I think this position under-achieved, overall, a year ago.

Tight Ends/H-Backs/Fullbacks (7)
Dominick Wood-Anderson (Sr)
LaTrell Bumphus (Jr)
Austin Pope (R-Jr) FB
Ja’Quain Blakely (R-Jr) FB
James Brown (R-So)
Jacob Warren (R-Fr)
Jackson Lowe (Fr)

Summer/Fall enrolls: 1-Sean Brown (Fr)
Position group combined games played/starts: 67/12

Vince’s View Position Outlook: Jim Chaney loves the tight end position. He has a really good one at the top in Dominick Wood-Anderson. The second-year development potential is there for him to be a Top 3 TE in the league. A second effective tight end needs to develop. Jacob Warren came in as a terrific pass catcher, but redshirted last season with a leg injury. He also needed to add weight. Will we see a bigger version of Warren that’s able to contribute as a two-way TE? True freshman Jackson Lowe gets the leg-up over his 2019 classmate at TE, Sean Brown, by getting a full spring practice in. There’s an opportunity for Lowe to rise-up the depth chart. He has the size to potentially handle the in-line blocking requirements and is mobile enough to contribute as a pass catcher. UT has had too many one-dimensional TEs on the roster in recent years. UT needs that to change. Brian Niedermeyer is hot in the recruiting circles. Can he have that same impact in year two coaching this position?

Offensive Line (13)
Ryan Johnson (R-Jr) C/G
Jahmir Johnson (R-Jr) G/T
Marcus Tatum (Sr) T
Jerome Carvin (So) G
Nathan Niehaus (R-Jr) T/G
Riley Locklear (Jr) C/G
Brandon Kennedy (R-Sr) C/G
K’Rojhn Calbert (R-So) T/G
Eric Crosby (R-So) G
Ollie Lane (R-Fr) C/G
Wanya Morris (Fr) T
Chris Akporoghene (Fr) G
*Trey Smith (Jr) T/G (out – not healthy)

Summer/Fall enrolls: 3-Jackson Lampley (Fr) C, Melvin McBride (Fr) G/C, Darnell Wright (Fr) T
Transfer Portal: Drew Richmond (R-Sr)
Position group combined games played/starts: 125/69

Vince’s View Position Outlook: This is one of the big questions mark positions on this team. This is also a position that will be much different in the fall versus the spring. Strength and Conditioning Coach Craig Fitzgerald had to be the MVP of the staff from the offseason. It’s imperative that the linemen are much stronger, tougher and more physical. The offensive line has been riddled with insufficient talent and a laundry list of injuries. Three of those frequently injured linemen have ended their football careers. The heart and soul of the football team, Trey Smith, is out indefinitely due to blood clots. The Vols signed one of the nation’s best o-line classes with five players including two 5-stars. One of the two early enrolls, Chris Akporoghene will miss the start of spring practice after a minor knee procedure. It will be a shame if he can’t participate full-go in the spring. Five-star tackle Wanya Morris will have every opportunity to develop and take the lead for a starting spot. The rest of the tackles need to get better and healthier. Will Jahmir Johnson return to his original tackle position? How does the returning Brandon Kennedy look at center? Will Ryan Johnson be a first team guard if he does move there from center? How big is the jump to year two for talented sophomore guard Jerome Carvin? Is everybody else healthy? How much time will Jim Chaney spend with OL coach Will Friend coaching this group? You will know where you stand as a player with those two in the ear hole of your helmet.

Defensive Line (8)
Matthew Butler (Jr) E
Emmit Gooden (R-Sr) T
Kivon Bennett (R-So) E
John Mincey (So) E So
Kurott Garland (R-Fr) E
Kingston Harris (R-Fr) T
Greg Emerson (R-Fr) T/E
*Aubrey Solomon (R-Jr) T (transfer – not yet eligible)

Summer/Fall enrolls: 3-Darel Middleton (Jr) T/E, Savion Williams (Jr) T, Elijah Williams (Fr) T
Position group combined games played/starts: 67/2

Vince’s View Position Outlook: The defensive line group of players above is the biggest area of the team that needs to improve drastically. They can be helped with the outside linebackers that will play some defensive end and provide pass rush, but the bulk of this group is unproven. The players listed above have career combined totals of just 58 tackles, 2 sacks and 9.5 TFLs. All of those stats come from four players with the biggest numbers from DT Emmit Gooden. Gooden will have every opportunity to be one of the starters. Who else can be developed to be stout on the line? What impact has strength and conditioning had on the d-line? All the 2019 additions join the team this summer, so this unit may change in the fall. This is a huge area of concern. Is there even enough talent right now to be good enough to compete in the SEC? If Solomon gets granted immediate eligibility that would be a big boost. It will take more recruiting classes to get this position to a championship-caliber level.

Linebackers (10)
Darrin Kirkland Jr. (R-Sr) I
Daniel Bituli (Sr) I
Darrell Taylor (R-Sr) O
Will Ignont (Jr) I
Deandre Johnson (Jr) O
Shanon Reid (Jr) I
Jordan Allen (R-Jr) O
JJ Peterson (R-Fr) O
Solon Page III (R-So) I
Quavaris Crouch (Fr) O

Summer/Fall enrolls: 2-Roman Harrison (Fr) I, Henry To’oto’o (Fr) I
Transfer Portal: Austin Smith (R-Sr) O
Position group combined games played/starts: 173/64

Vince’s View Position Outlook: You have plenty of experience, some guys that have not lived-up to their recruiting rankings and some ultra-talented newcomers added in. Only one newcomer, freshman Quavaris Crouch, is practicing in the spring, but expectations will be high for him to get on the field early. Chris Rumph said he will start at outside linebacker. UT has fewer quality options outside than inside. Yes, Darrell Taylor has had some big sack games, but it’s too often feast or famine with his game. This defense needs a game-changing star OLB/DE to be most effective. Crouch is the best candidate to fill the roles of some of the star players at Alabama that did it. A fit and determined JJ Peterson would be a big boost to the competition at these four LB positions. He’s what Pruitt calls a “four-for-four guy” meaning he could play any of the four LB positions. I love To’oto’o but he won’t be on the field until the summer. Jordan Allen was a highly-rated JUCO LB in the 2018 class, but could never break through a season ago. He decided to stay after flirting with transferring. Can Allen push Taylor and Johnson at an OLB spot? You’ll see Bituli and Kirkland Jr at the top of the depth chart early, but I don’t think either one is guaranteed anything this fall.

Defensive Backs (15)
Nigel Warrior (Sr) S
Baylen Buchanan (Sr) CB/St
Bryce Thompson (So) CB
Alontae Taylor (So) CB
Shawn Shamburger (Jr) CB/St
Theo Jackson (Jr) S
Trevon Flowers (So) S
Cheyenne Labruzza (Jr) CB/St
Kenneth George Jr. (R-Jr) CB
Terrell Bailey (R-So) CB
Brandon Davis (R-Fr) CB
Jaylen McCullough (Fr) S
Tyus Fields (Fr) CB
Warren Burrell (Fr) CB
*Deangelo Gibbs (R-Jr) S (transfer – not yet eligible)

Summer/Fall enrolls: 2-Aaron Beasley (Fr) S, Kenny Solomon (Fr) CB – expected blue shirt
Position group combined games played/starts: 174/61

Vince’s View Position Outlook: This group was addressed in a big way in the 2019 signing class which tells you all you need to know about many of the bodies on the team returning. The young corners, Bryce Thompson and Alontae Taylor, should excite fans with the potential of what year two can bring in their development. Will Nigel Warrior continue to mature, improve and take-on a greater leadership role? Trevon Flowers, who practiced with the Vols baseball team in the fall but was not on the final roster, appears to be locked in on football. His second-year in a Tennessee uniform could be spent in a starting role. I really like the freshman DBs. There’s desired size at corner, ball skills, leadership qualities, speed and athleticism, all of which needed upgrades in this position group. Don’t be surprised to see some of those freshmen hop over more experienced guys by the time we get to the Orange & White game. Watching Derrick Ansley and Jeremy Pruitt run this group will be interesting. They will get coached-up without a doubt. Georgia transfer Deangelo Gibbs could very well begin practice at wide receiver, but if he’s granted immediate eligibility that would be huge, regardless of where he plays.

Specialists (3) +1 walk-on
Brent Cimaglia (Jr) PK
Riley Lovingood (R-Sr) LS
Paxton Brooks (So) PK
Joe Doyle (R-So) P (walk-on)

Summer/Fall enrolls:
Position group combined games played/starts: 66/0

Vince’s View Position Outlook:
Kevin Sherrer takes over a group, as the new special teams coordinator, that performed pretty well last season. The exception was the return game. When your offense isn’t explosive and you have to play the field position game, you need to be able to flip the field in special teams with big returns and booming punts. UT should have enough athletes to be threats in the return game. UT is often conservative in taking touchbacks. Will Paxton Brooks challenge Joe Doyle for the starting punting job after what was said to be a close race last season? Will Riley Lovingood reclaim his long snapper roles replacing the departed Jesse Medford? Will it be a split role with two different long snappers, one for kicks and one for punts?

Notes
Classes changed for 2019 season including 12 qualifying for redshirts
76 Scholarship Players Entering Spring Practice
88 Scholarship Players in Summer/Fall

Coaching Staff (Salary)
HC – Jeremy Pruitt
OC: Jim Chaney
OL – Will Friend
QB – Chris Weinke
RB – David Johnson
TE – Brian Niedermeyer
WR/Pass Game Coor./Asst HC – Tee Martin
DC/DB – Derrick Ansley
STC/ILB – Kevin Sherrer
Co-DC/OLB – Chris Rumph
DL – Tracy Rocker
Dir of S&C – Craig Fitzgerald


Find more of my broadcasting work at VinceSports.net.

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