Tennessee Volunteers Football: Looking into the 2020 Offense
By: Daniel Morgan
The All Vol Call In Show
Feb. 3, 2020
Photo: Jake Nichols, Rocky Top Insider
Heading into the 2020 season the Volunteers have many questions, such as: who will replace the lethal duo of Marquez Calloway and Jauan Jennings? Who will be the starting quarterback? How will the rotations on the monstrous offensive line play out? Does the run gameplay a larger role in the offense? The list could go on for eternity, but today we’ll focus on the questions that have been popular amongst the Vol faithful.
Arguably the most talked about point of the first three weeks of the offseason, is the offense. With Jarrett Guarantano announcing his return for the 2020 season, offensive lineman Cade Mays transferring in from rival UGA, adding two transfer wideouts in Velus Jones Jr. and Miles Jones, and a surplus of talent coming in from the 2020 signing class, the offense is looking to make major improvements in 2020.
The roughest part of the 2019 campaign was the quarterback play.Jarrett Guarantano struggled at the beginning of the season, eventually being pulled for true-freshman Brian Maurer. Maurer provided a spark for a seemingly dormant offense, but injury and rookie mistakes thrust Guarantano back into the role of starter to finish the year. Going into the offseason, the role of starter is up for grabs and is without a doubt something to keep up within the following months.
With five scholarship quarterbacks, and walk-on Maryland transfer Kasim Hill all competing for the number one spot at the position, many expect at least one of the six to enter the transfer portal before the season starts. Does it happen?
It is quite possible. Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout will both be sophomores in 2020, and if Harrison Bailey is as good as his stats show, he may be “the man” for the next four years. Of course, the quarterback is the most important position on the field, but that job can be made easier or harder by the men that protect him.
The offensive line. The line has been an absolute rollercoaster for Volunteer fans over the span of the Jeremy Pruitt era, going back to 2018 when the line could only give Jarrett Guarantano what felt like milliseconds before being hurried out of the pocket. Fast forward two years later, and the Vols are boasting possiblu one of the best offensive lines in the country. With four of the starting five being five-star recruits coming out of high school, and two looking to be high round NFL draft picks in the coming year. This offensive line has three things that every great line has had in the past, experience, size, and physicality. Mix those three and you have a perfect monster.
Building off the momentum from the offensive line, and arguably what the line affects the most, the run game. Every great team in the history of college football has had a run game, maybe not a dominant run down your throat every play run game, but a solid run game that can pick up short yardage when needed as well as make a handful of explosive plays to keep the defense guessing. That is where Tennessee has been slacking in the last few years. Jim Chaney runs a balanced offense that utilizes short to medium throws and a run game that can get the team into short down situations late in a drive. The Vols haven’t been able to do this with mediocre line play, as well as a shortage of explosive plays from the running backs. Eric Gray provided the most spark in the 2019 season, with a freshman record game against Vanderbilt (246 yards on 25 attempts, and a 94-yard touchdown run), and Gator Bowl MVP honors (14 attempts for 86 yards.) In 2020 the Vols will be using the run game much more with the flat-out abusive offensive line Jeremy Pruitt has assembled. With the addition of multiple “big backs” (the only thing the Vols didn’t have in 2019) in the 2020 recruiting cycle, the run game should be in full-swing come next fall.
The wide receiver room took some big hits at the end of the 2019 season, with the losses of Jauan Jennings, and Marquez Calloway. Calloway and Jennings were by far the most explosive players on offense over the last two years, when the ball wasn’t being run it was going to one of the two. In 2019, the dynamic duo accounted for 14 of the 19 passing touchdowns on the season, and 89 of the teams 200 receptions. Who will step up to fill these giant shoes? Josh Palmer, Brandon Johnson, and Cedric Tillman figure to be the favorites. Palmer made some big plays during his junior year in 2019, including an unbelievable toe-drag touchdown catch at Kentucky. Brandon Johnson has had a quiet career at UT, with his best year being his sophomore season in 2017 (37 catches for 482 yards.) Johnson will look to change that in 2020, he’s a 6’2, 195- pound guy. Not huge, but big enough to play at a high level. Cedric Tillman was a freshman in 2019, seeing little playing time, but making the best of the time he did see.
The tight-end position was relatively dormant in the 2019 campaign, with Dominick Wood-Anderson having a quiet year. Now Wood-Anderson is gone, which leaves Austin Pope, Sean Brown, Jacob Warren, and Jackson Lowe to fill the role. Pope has played the role when Wood-Anderson has been off the field, so he figures to fill the role full-time. However, Pope is more of a blocking tight end than a burn you downfield kind of player. Jim Chaney loves tight-ends, and he will be looking for a guy who can get downfield as well. It will be interesting to keep up with the position going into 2020 since Tennessee hasn’t signed any in the class of 2020.