Fifteen practices down and several important freshmen still to come, the Vols head into the long summer months with far more answers than questions in not just their starting lineup, but the entire two-deep for the first time in many years. A coach in his third year and two straight top ten recruiting classes have brought us both firepower and stability, and it shows across the board.
Here's how we project the Vols to line up in the season opener. Remember, this is how we think things will look on September 5 in Nashville, not in the College Football Playoff. Or wherever. As such, it's a conservative projection. For instance, this is the second straight depth chart projection that doesn't feature Kahlil McKenzie in the starting lineup. I think he'll be there eventually this season, but I hope he has a hard time beating out the guys who have actually been in practice for week one.
|First Team||Second Team|
|QB||Josh Dobbs JR||Quinten Dormady FR|
|RB||Jalen Hurd SO||Alvin Kamara JR|
|WR||Marquez North JR||Jason Croom JR|
|WR||Josh Smith SO||Josh Malone SO|
|WR||Pig Howard SR||Jonathan Johnson SR|
|TE||Ethan Wolf SO||Alex Ellis SR|
|OT||Kyler Kerbyson SR||Dontavius Blair JR|
|OG||Marcus Jackson SR||Chance Hall FR|
|C||Mack Crowder SR||Coleman Thomas SO|
|OG||Jashon Robertson SO||Austin Sanders SO|
|OT||Brett Kendrick SO||Drew Richmond FR|
|DE||Curt Maggitt SR||Corey Vereen JR|
|DT||Danny O'Brien JR||Owen Williams SR|
|DT||Shy Tuttle FR||Kahlil McKenzie FR|
|DE||Derek Barnett SO||LaTroy Lewis JR|
|LB||Jalen Reeves-Maybin JR||Cortez McDowell SO|
|LB||Kenny Bynum JR||Dillon Bates RFR|
|CB||Cameron Sutton JR||Justin Martin JR|
|CB||Emmanual Moseley SO||Devaun Swafford JR|
|CB||Rashaan Gaulden SO||Malik Foreman JR|
|S||Brian Randolph SR||Evan Berry SO|
|S||LaDarrell McNeil SR||
Todd Kelly, Jr SO
We were going to put returning starters in bold, but if you're willing to count Josh Smith's one start and Brett Kendrick's two starts, that's 11 returning starters on offense and eight on defense. You get the idea. And only seven of these projected starters are seniors.
Answers from Spring Practice
- Quinten Dormady appears to have a firm grip on the backup quarterback position, at least for now. If Josh Dobbs were to be injured you might argue for an Erik Ainge/Brent Schaeffer situation with Dormady and Jauan Jennings, but Dormady passes the eye, coach quote, and message board tests.
- We did not include Von Pearson as his suspension continues during the sexual assault investigation.
- If the "play the best five" mantra continues into the fall, the Vols look like they will roll the dice with most of the same pieces that struggled on the offensive line last year. No big leap from Dontavius Blair just yet, and we saw the dangers of asking true freshmen to jump in and play last season. But remember, those five guys were in the mix against Iowa and helped the offense dominate. We know they can't be worse. And we know they have more options now. But it looks like, at least at first, it'll be newer versions of the old options.
- I'm not sure if the nickel position was a huge question coming into the spring, but the way Gaulden appears to have separated himself from the pack there is a good sign for the Vols.
- Who's going to win the LaDarrell McNeil/Todd Kelly battle at safety? Tennessee.
- How big is the gap between Ethan Wolf and the backup tight end? Wolf caught nearly 70% of his passes last year from Justin Worley, though I'm not sure how much we should read into that. There are plenty of other bodies on the roster, but Alex Ellis earned most of those snaps last season.
- The chatter from the coaching staff suggests the Vols aren't going to put Curt Maggitt at linebacker for a majority of snaps while allowing Corey Vereen, LaTroy Lewis, or some of the newcomers to get a shot at defensive end. Middle linebacker is a question either way, but if Maggitt stays down at end when the Vols are in the nickel package, that second linebacker is perhaps the team's biggest question mark right now. We've got Kenny Bynum there by default right now, but there are several other options like Dillon Bates or Darrin Kirkland who could jump right in there very early in the season.
- McKenzie and Drew Richmond will get most of the attention when they arrive on campus, but Justin Martin might get on the field before either of them. We know about Cam Sutton, Moseley came back from mono and had like three interceptions in an hour, and Gaulden was one of the most improved players this spring. So maybe a juco kid like Martin is a safety net now, and if so great. But the last few years there have been under the radar freshmen who actually made the biggest impact early in the year (Jashon Robertson last year, Sutton himself two years ago). Don't be surprised if Martin fills that role this year.