Team 121 concluded spring practice this Saturday in Neyland Stadium. Going into the 2017 season, much has changed with this Vols team. The coaching staff has undergone an overhaul with great additions including Brady Hoke (DL coach), Charlton Warren (DB coach), Kevin Beard (WR coach), and Mike Canales (QB coach). The biggest question going into this season will be who will win the starting job at quarterback. Other huge questions are whether the defense will be improved, who will step up at wide receiver to help Jauan Jennings out, and will running back be an issue this season?
This spring game likely won’t answer any of the major questions going into this season, however it will be a good look at this young squad. Without further ado lets get into this recap.
Quarterbacks: Quinten Dormady vs. Jarrett Guarantano
Going off the eye test, Dormady looked to be the more comfortable in the pocket of the two. In his first two drives he was a perfect 10-10, 120 yards, and 2 TDs. He got the ball out of his hands quickly, made good reads, made nice touch passes, and lead the team down the field like a field commander. In Guarantano’s first drive he went 4-5 and 21 yards and at times looked flustered in the pocket.
Sheriron Jones: On his two drives, Jones was 1-4 and was either high, low, or short on his throws, however he was dealing with a nagging rib injury.
Even after Dormady’s great spring game, the quarterback battle likely won’t be decided until the Georgia Tech game.
John Kelly didn’t get any reps in this game, instead Carlin Fils-Aime and Taeler Dowdy combined for 54 yards. Based on this game, it is impossible to really get a feel for who will backup Kelly going into fall. Ty Chandler will be joining this fall and will look to gain a spot as well. He brings an impressive resume to the table, racking up 6,158 yards and 92 TDs in his three years at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Eleven different players caught a pass in Saturday’s game, however it wasn’t a huge day for any player. The standouts were Jauan Jennings and Ethan Wolf, each with 3 catches for a combined 51 yards. Eli Wolf hauled in a nice 19 yard pass for a TD from Dormady.
The biggest looming questions with this squad will be who will replace the downfield threat of Josh Malone and whether more production can be generated from the TE position. With Larry Scott’s promotion to offensive coordinator, the TE should be featured more in the offense this 2017 season.
Given Tyler Byrd’s experience from last season and speed he would be a smart choice to line up opposite of Jennings. In the slot, Josh Smith will bring a veteran presence/possession receiver capabilities to the offense. Aside from the receivers mentioned, there is a lot of unproven talent at WR. However, four-star receiver Marquez Callaway has received praise from coaches for having a great off-season.
The Vols will be bringing back loads of experience along the offensive line. Many of the players can play multiple positions along the line which is also a plus. Mainstays Jashon Robertson and Drew Richmond played in Saturday’s game along with a few inexperienced and new lineman. Notable 5-star early enrollee Trey Smith has all the makings of a great lineman. He has good size, strength, football smarts, and maturity as a freshman. Brett Kendrick, Jack Jones, Chance Hall, and Coleman Thomas will all be returning to what looks to be the most stable and competitive positions on the team.
The entirety of the starting D-line was out for Saturday’s game either dealing with injury or resting. Darrell Taylor has gained praise from the coaching staff for his athletic ability and recorded 2 sacks in the game. While the defensive line is loaded with talent, much of it has been sidelined with injury. This will be a big year for both Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle as they’re both going into their junior years and have yet to show their true potential in their first two years. Both were out for the spring game with injuries.
While McKenzie will be ready come Georgia Tech, it will be pushing it for Tuttle. Jonathan Kongbo’s lone highlight from last season was his interception return for a TD in a win against Missouri,other than that he left much to be desired. Now that he has been switched back from defensive tackle to defensive end (where he was recruited), you may see more motivation to make plays. Kendal Vickers and Kyle Phillips also look to play integral roles on the line.
This is among the top groups that has the most to prove with Derek Barnett’s departure and how the defense got gashed for yards in the final few games.
The linebackers contain,perhaps, the least amount of depth going into fall, yet have the leader of the defense in Darrin Kirkland Jr. (didn’t play Saturday) . His return will be welcomed to a defense that looked lost much of last season. Cortez McDowell will look to start opposite of Kirkland. Aside from that little is known about who will step up to make plays for the Vols this season.
The defensive backfield will be losing Cam Sutton this season, but it will be returning many who got valuable playing time. Todd Kelly Jr. will assume his role as SS and leader in the backfield, Rashaan Gaulden at nickelback, and Emmanuel Moseley at right cornerback. Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior (played Saturday) are both young talent who look to make an impact this season. Charlton Warren’s addition to the staff should be a major contributor to to how the DBs play this year.
Quinten Dormady shined during a rainy Saturday afternoon and provided a glimmer of hope for what this season may hold. While the QB competition will continue into the fall, it was a nice preview for fans before the season starts. In terms of the other positions on offense, the game didn’t provide much insight into who will fill roles opposite of Jennings and who will backup Kelly. The same is to be said on defense as only starters Todd Kelly Jr. and Cortez McDowell and potential starters Nigel Warrior and Justin Martin played in Saturday’s game.
Quinten Dormady edges out Guarantano for QB based on experience, however don’t be surprised if UT opens up against Georgia Tech with both to see what they got.
Tyler Byrd claims the spot opposite of Jennings and Callaway finds his way onto the field.
John Kelly will be the go-to RB and Carlin Fils-Aime and Ty Chandler will battle for the back-up position.
With this being Bob Shoop’s second year, players will be more familiar with his system. The defense has a top class staff coaching them, now if the defense can stay healthy (knock on wood) they might be able to improve from last year when they gave up yards at will.
Based on Tennessee’s schedule, I have them finishing 7-5 or 8-4 but don’t be surprised if they sneak up on people and steal a win.
Stay tuned for more sports news and analysis as the season approaches.