Entering the 2018 season there may be no word that sums up this edition of the Tennessee Volunteers more than, “Change.” Head Coach, Athletic Director, Assistant Coaches, new arrivals, graduates, new schemes, new philosophies, new positions, the list goes on and on. For these Volunteers there is very little in the way of familiarity as they enter the upcoming season. Then again, after the way the 2017 campaign went, massive changes are probably just what this team needs.
The best thing about change is that it heralds something new. For many of the players on the Tennessee roster, it heralds new opportunities. Thanks to the massive philosophical shift the Vols underwent this past off season, some young players as well as some more veteran guys are going to come into 2018 with an opportunity to explode on to the SEC scene and shine. This article will take a look at five players that should have breakout campaigns in 2018.
1. Dominick Wood-Anderson, TE
Wood-Anderson is arriving on campus for the Volunteers as the number one JUCO tight end in the 2018 recruiting class, as well as one of the best JUCO players overall in 2018. At six foot five, two hundred fifty five pounds, Wood-Anderson is a freak athlete at the tight end spot. His speed is stunning for his size, and his highlight tape from the JUCO ranks is eye popping. This young man is the odds on favorite to lock down the job as the starting tight end for the Vols, and the tape makes it easy to see why. As a Junior College All American, Wood-Anderson regularly displayed exceptional speed from the tight end spot, while running sharp routes that look more in line with a good wide receiver, and displaying stellar hands. Wood-Anderson is an adequate in line blocker, something Tight End Coach Brian Niedermeyer will push him to improve, but as a receiver, he is capable of breaking games open. Playing within the offense that Tyson Helton wants to run, and likely being a target for a young quarterback in Jarret Guarantano, expect Wood-Anderson to see plenty of targets as he can be both a security blanket as well as dynamic playmaker. If the Vols find success in the 2018 season, expect this new face at tight end to have made serious contributions and a name for himself to boot.
2. Eric Crosby, DT
Crosby was rated a four star defensive tackle when he came to Tennessee from Virginia Beach. He arrived with high expectations for his future in Knoxville, as well as his own ZIP Code, as Crosby is simply a huge human being. After redshirting in 2017, Crosby looks to make an impact for the Vols in 2018, and in spite of being listed as an offensive lineman on the Orange and White Game roster, Crosby is more likely to make that impact for the Vols on the defensive line. Shy Tuttle has shown incredible heart in his career with the Vols, playing well when he was healthy. Unfortunately for Tuttle and Tennessee, his time on Rocky Top has been hampered by multiple, serious injuries. While all Big Orange fans want to see the senior have a superb season and shine in a healthy campaign, the fact remains that he has been prone to injury, and the Vols sorely lack options to play Nose Tackle in Jeremy Pruitt's 3-4 defense if that happens. Perhaps the strongest candidate to replace Tuttle if he is hurt, or simply to spell him in the rotation, is Crosby. After studying Crosby's tape, one is left with the impression that if he ever gets on the field, Tennessee's coaches are going to have a difficult time getting him off of it. He just has the feel of a player that is ready to make an impact when he gets an opportunity. Due to Tennessee's lack of depth at the nose, and Crosby's motor and strength, don't be surprised to hear this young man's name called often when he finally gets his chance on the field.
3. Greg Emerson, Lineman
Greg Emerson was recruited heavily by all the national powers in the 2018 recruiting cycle, despite suffering a serious injury before his Senior season in high school. The Jackson, Tennessee product was a five star defensive lineman and one of the jewels of Tennessee's 2018 recruiting class. Emerson is another player that is yet to have been named to a permanent home on the roster, playing offensive line in the Orange and White Game, like Eric Crosby. Also like Crosby, it is difficult to envision Emerson staying put at offensive guard with the incredible potential his tape shows on the defensive line. Many feel that Crosby and Emerson played on offense this spring due to a lack of bodies in that group for the Vols, and it certainly is difficult to see Jeremy Pruitt allowing such a versatile defensive lineman to play on the other side of the ball. Emerson is talented enough that he is going to make an immediate impact wherever he lines up for Tennessee this fall, but his highest ceiling would appear to be on the defensive line. In Emerson, Pruitt and defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer are getting a guy that has the size and skill to play any position, in any defensive front they choose to run. Emerson certainly looks the part of a prototypical 3-4 defensive end, something that is hard to come by in college football. He also posses the speed to play on the edge of a 4-3, and the strength to play defensive tackle in a four man front. While a bit undersized to be a traditional nose tackle, Emerson shows the strength and hand technique to play that position as well if called on to do so. When picturing the expectation of a Jeremy Pruitt Guy, Greg Emerson is one of the players that keeps coming to mind. This young man is simply too good not to get on the field somewhere for the Vols this fall, and he will open eyes when he does get there.
4. Darrel Taylor, OLB
What Tennessee fan isn't excited to see what this explosive Virginian can do coming off the edge in Pruitt's defense? It just feels right, like a perfect match, doesn't it? Taylor is a natural pass rusher and an intense, high energy guy. He only knows one way to play, as hard as he can, something you might expect from the man that coined the WGWTFA hashtag at the Battle at Bristol. Taylor got himself in trouble at times last season, but it was often part of the intensity he played with. In Pruitt, Taylor now has a coach that is going to encourage that intensity, rely on him to blow plays up , especially as a pass rusher, but is also going to aim it and develop it. Jeremy Pruitt is not a man that will tolerate stupid penalties or mental mistakes, even if they are born from playing hard. That attitude and direction from his coach is exactly what Taylor needs, and as he moves into a role on the field he looks to be perfect for, expect to see Taylor's new coaches push the young man to focus more intensely on pursuing the finer points of his craft while teaching him to focus that passion and intensity. A healthy Darrel Taylor this season is a guy capable of making plays that change the entire complexion of games for the Vols.
5. Ty Chandler, RB
Here's the big one, the guy that the country had better not sleep on. Ty Chandler is going to be the central pillar that the Tennessee offense is built around. Tyson Helton's offense looks to target explosive passes after establishing the run. Jeremy Pruitt is going to want to control the tempo of games by controlling the clock, thus protecting his defense, by running the football. He wants to develop Tennessee into a hard nosed, physical, football team. All of those goals are dependent on having a quality running back, and folks, in Chandler, the Vols have a good one. There will be a lot asked of Ty Chandler this year and a lot rolled on to his shoulders, but everything to this point shows he is up to the challenge of shouldering that load. Chandler may be smaller than what Pruitt wants to see at Tennessee long term, but he runs hard between the tackles and is happy to initiate serious contact. Chandler runs bigger than he is, and with bad intentions when he meets defenders. Ty Chandler is going to be the bell cow for these Vols, and that should put a smile on the faces of those in Big Orange Nation. While Chandler is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield and a weapon in the return game, what can make him so electric for Tennessee in 2018 is his ability to turn any given touch into a touchdown. Chandler has breath taking speed, and any crack he is given can go from a six yard gain to a sixty yard score in a blink. Another year in the weight room is only going to further Chandler's physical development, and in an offense that is going to allow him to use his speed attacking downhill more, rather than his first step always being a lateral one, expect to see the Nashville product turn some routine plays into explosive ones. The 2018 Vols are going to go as Ty Chandler goes, and though the pressure is significant on number three, Tennessee fans should feel confident in the sophomore's ability to shoulder that load.
And there you have it, a look at five players that should burst onto the scene for the Volunteers in the 2018 season. If a player may have been overlooked or someone should be on the radar of Vol fans that isn't listed here, feel free to share it in the comments.