Just how important are the eight early enrollees on the offensive side of the ball? Well, with the expected losses due to graduation and the NFL, here is the projected depth chart of remaining players for spring practice:
And here is the depth chart with the eight mid-term enrollees added in yellow:
As you can see, Tennessee is expecting major contributions from the early enrollees, with two players expected to start, and no fewer than five others having the opportunity to push incumbent players for major playing time. Let's look at the new players in order of expected contribution.
Must contribute immediately
- Dontavius Blair, offensive tackle. 6'8, 303. Garden City Community College. Rated 4 stars by Rivals. Other offers included Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and USC. You don't bring in junior college players without expecting them to immediately push for playing time, and Blair is no exception. He is considered tall for the position (amusing picture with tiny teammates here), but moves well with quick feet and good hands. While it can take a bit for JUCO players to adjust to the speed and strength of SEC players, Blair is expected to start from day one and will be given every opportunity to win the starting left tackle position.
- Lavon "Von" Pearson, wide receiver. 6'1, 180. Feather River College. Rated 4 stars by Rivals (247 ranks him as the #2 JUCO receiver overall). Pearson is a quick wide receiver with sticky hands and great body control. He absolutely destroyed the competition in his league, but was a little known prospect until Tennessee coaches stumbled into him while researching another player, after which he received interest from Oregon, Miami, and Arizona State among others. With the Vols still searching for a reliable number two receiver across from Marquez North, Pearson should be able to push inconsistent Jason Croom and Josh Smith further down the depth chart.
Expect to see flashes of talent
- Jalen Hurd, running back/athlete. 6'3, 230. Beech, Hendersonville, TN. Rated 5 stars by Rivals. Following his junior season where he set a state rushing record with 3,357 yards and 43 touchdowns, while averaging over 10 yards a carry, Hurd was recruited by every major program in the country, including Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, and Notre Dame. A tall, long-striding player with good breakaway speed, Hurd has an upright running style reminiscent of former Titans' players Eddie George and Chris Brown. If there's any knock on him, it's that this bruising running style may make him prone to injury, after he missed his senior season with a torn labrum. Assuming his recovery remains on pace, Hurd may be too talented to keep off the field, and will likely supplant the slower Alden Hill as Marlin Lane's primary backup.
- Josh Malone, wide receiver. 6'2, 191. Station Camp, Gallatin, TN. Rated 5 stars by Rivals. Malone, a do-everything player for his high school team, proved that he deserved his more than 40 major college offers by showing out against top-level competition at the Army All-American Bowl. Similar in size to Marquez North, Malone presents match-up problems with his tremendous speed as well as his size. Although it's possible that UT coaches could put him at the number two spot, it's more likely that he will learn the number one position, giving the offense a similar threat when North needs a breather.
Experiences will vary
- Daniel Helm, tight end. 6'4, 225. Glenwood, Chatham, IL. Rivals: 4 stars. It's not that Helm isn't good, or that he won't earn playing time at the expense of incumbent starter Brendan Downs... it's that it's hard to project how he and the other players listed here will contribute to the offense, based on what we've seen from coaches. Helm and Wolf will absolutely compete with Downs, A.J. Branisel, and (assuming he stays on the roster) Woody Quinn, but given the learning curve with the new offensive line, coaches may ask tight ends to stay in and help block, which may make it harder for even talented freshmen to see the field. Similarly, offensive linemen Raulerson and Thomas are consensus high three star players who could win immediate playing time, but more likely will need time in the weight room and at the training table to see the field. Creamer, currently listed as an athlete, is a complete enigma. He could play wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, or end up on the other side of the ball.
- Ethan Wolf, tight end. 6'5, 247. Minster, Minster, OH. Rivals: 3 stars.
- Ray Raulerson, offensive line. 6'4, 278. Plant, Tampa, FL. Rivals: 3 stars.
- Coleman Thomas, offensive line 6'6, 297. Fort Chiswell, Max Meadows, VA. Rivals: 3 stars.
- Neiko Creamer, athlete. 6'3, 218. Eastern Christian, Elkton, MD. Rivals: 3 stars.