The Vols have opened Fall Camp for the 2018 football season, and today is Fan Day in Knoxville. The excitement is ramping up as the season edges ever closer, and Tennessee fans are getting more and more anxious to get their first, up close look at Jeremy Pruitt’s version of the Vols. There is plenty to be gleaned from camp to hold fans over until the first game against the Mountaineers in Charlotte, when exactly what this team is will be revealed on a big stage. Until then, let’s look at the biggest questions Vol fans can look for answers to during camp, and especially at today’s fan day.
Which five guys start on the Offensive Line?
This may be the single most important question for these Vols to answer. Tennessee has some talented players on this line, with an interesting mix of returning players, guys coming off injury, JUCO additions, Grad Transfers, and incoming true freshman. This unit underachieved during Butch Jones’s entire tenure in Knoxville, poor scheme, poor development, and rampant injuries all contributed to the struggles that lead to this group being abysmal at times the last two seasons. It may seem strange, but this unit has all the makings, for the first time in seasons, to be a strength of the team.
Trey Smith was as good as advertised as a freshman, looking every bit the dominant phenom he was billed as. Drew Richmond, another former five-star tackle, has had his struggles, but developed into a rock-solid left tackle at the end of his redshirt sophomore season. This is in spite of being hampered by all the negatives mentioned in the Jones regime last season. Chance Hall, a former Freshman All-American, returns from a knee injury and looks to contribute to the unit. Before injuries, Hall was one of the best players on the entire Tennessee roster, let alone on the offensive line. Brandon Kennedy arrived this offseason as a Grad Transfer from Alabama, and the former four-star recruit looks to be a lock to start against West Virginia, either at Center or Guard. Jerome Carvin, a four-star recruit from Memphis, looks to potentially start at either Tackle or, more likely, at Right Guard for the Vols as a freshman. Jahmir Johnson arrived as a JUCO addition this fall with every intention of plugging in and taking over one of the Tackle spots for the Vols. Tennessee returns several other players in the mix on the offensive line, but the interesting thing to look for during Fan Day and the remainder of camp will be who makes up the starting five and where they play. As it stands, for the Vols to get the projected, five most talented lineman on the field, at least one will have to be changing positions. Seeing how Jeremy Pruitt and Will Friend sort this line will show some of their priorities in building the team going forward.
Just what will Pruitt’s 3-4 Defense look like personnel wise?
Jeremy Pruitt wants a big defense. His history shows it, he has stated it, and it has become extremely evident in his current recruiting at Tennessee. These Vols have some talented players on their defense, and several very good players are not going to be starting this season. While the position battles are something to watch, who is in what position should be fascinating. Outside Shy Tuttle, who on this roster fits Pruitt’s vision for a nose tackle? Who does Pruitt have that he feels can play his bigger 3-4 end? Which of the new Outside Linebackers is left out in the cold? Does Pruitt look to want traditional linebacker builds there, or is he converting defensive ends? How do the safeties shake out? What does a Pruitt corner look like? There are so many questions on defense, just seeing how a healthy unit lines up and what it looks like size/strength/speed wise will be an important take away.
What does Jauan Jennings look like now that he is back in the fold?
Losing Jennings last season was a drastic blow to the Volunteer offense both from a skill and a leadership standpoint. Jennings is a spark plug for this team, a high energy, fiery, intense player that Tennessee sorely missed last season. Jennings must learn to focus that fire for the good of his team, but his competitive attitude and desire for contact makes him appear to be the kind of player Pruitt would love. If Jennings is at one hundred percent, ready to go, he offers the Vol offense far more than just an extremely talented wide receiver. As a bonus point to watch, keep an eye on who makes the most spectacular catches today. The favorites would be a duel between Jennings and the highlight reel that is Marquez Callaway.
What do these Volunteers look like up close?
Examining the media guide for this year’s version of the Vols and comparing it to the projected starters on both offense and defense, there is something that jumps off the page. The Vols are going to be much, much bigger in 2018 than in 2017. On Offense, this looks, on paper, to be the biggest, strongest offensive line Tennessee has fielded in years, and the skill positions, particularly at receiver, have a marked increase in size as well. Looking at the defense, Tennessee is going to be playing with substantially more beef on the field at one time than in 2017. This is all without factoring in the gains in the weight room the Volunteer coaching staff has continued to comment on of late. This defense is big, they are fast, and they are loaded with guys that can lower devastating shots. Pairings of Daniel Bituli and Darrin Kirkland Jr. side by side at Inside Linebacker and Nigel Warrior and Todd Kelly Jr. at the safety spots illustrate the potential of the defense to land massive hits with big bodies.
And, yes, of course, how do the Quarterbacks look?
You didn’t think this article was going to miss this, did you? Pruitt insisted earlier this week that this is a four-player battle with Jarret Guarantano, Keller Chryst, Will McBride, and J.T. Shrout all having a shot at the job. That said everyone expects Guarantano and Chryst to separate from the others fairly quickly. Fan Day will be the first opportunity to compare the Stanford Grad Transfer and the Redshirt Sophomore side by side, in the same drills, throwing to the same receivers. There is only so much to gain from watching guys throw against air, but this will allow fans to see what these guys have when every rep counts.
There you have it, a quick guide to some important things to look for at Fan Day and throughout Fall Camp. How these questions are answered, and how emphatically, will go a long way in determining what the 2018 season looks like. Keep your eyes open today Big Orange Nation, as the 2018 Vols start to take shape today in Knoxville. And if you are looking for an extra credit question to answer, since school is starting back, seeing who gets on the field to return kickoffs and punts will be intriguing. The Vols have a few young players that could use that role to get on the field early.