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Tennessee Football 2016 Depth Chart Projections

Seventeen returning starters? Bring on the optimism.

Mike Carlson/Getty Images

With Alvin Kamara, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and Cameron Sutton all back in the fold, we take a look at how the depth chart should shake out for Team 120.  One of the best things about this:  we don't have to wait for signing day to fill in any important gaps with true freshmen.

With nine starters back on offense and eight on defense, it's pretty easy to fill this thing out.  Returning starters in big, beautiful bold.

QB Josh Dobbs SR Quinten Dormady SO
RB Jalen Hurd JR Alvin Kamara JR
WR Josh Malone JR Preston Williams SO
WR Josh Smith JR Jeff George JR
WR Jauan Jennings SO Cody Blanc SR
TE Ethan Wolf JR Jason Croom SR
LT Drew Richmond RFR Dontavius Blair SR
LG Jashon Robertson JR Venzell Boulware RFR
C Coleman Thomas JR Ray Raulerson SO
RG Dylan Wiesman SR Jack Jones SO
RT Brett Kendrick JR Chance Hall SO
DE Derek Barnett JR Kyle Phillips SO
DT Kahlil McKenzie SO Shy Tuttle SO
DT Kendal Vickers JR Danny O'Brien JR
DE Corey Vereen SR LaTroy Lewis SR
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin SR Austin Smith SO
LB Darrin Kirkland Jr. SO Colton Jumper SO
CB Cameron Sutton SR Emmanuel Moseley JR
CB Justin Martin JR Darrell Miller SO
NB Rashaan Gaulden SO Malik Foreman SR
FS Evan Berry JR Micah Abernathy SO
SS Todd Kelly Jr. JR Stephen Griffin SO

Man, that looks good.  And the Vols bring back both specialists and the national leaders in kick and punt returns.  Word.

The biggest questions left in this thing:

  • Will there be any separation at wide receiver this time? Tennessee's slot receiver has led the team in receptions the last three years, but Pig Howard and Von Pearson are both gone.  Jauan Jennings may not be able to avoid the safety question below, but if he returns to the offensive side of the ball can he improve on his 14 catches for 149 yards?  6'6" junior college transfer Jeff George will be here in the spring and could establish himself early.  The two Joshes came on stronger later in the year; can they hold down the starting roles and be effective on a championship level for this team?
  • Who is the number two tight end and can this team go heavy in short yardage situations? Jason Croom has been moved over to tight end, Joe Stocstill is still around, Jakob Johnson and Neiko Creamer are there, Eli Wolf redshirted last year.  But there's no definitive answer behind Ethan Wolf.  The Vols showed some under center looks in the Outback Bowl and certainly have the back to make short yardage work, but it'll be interesting to see if Tennessee tries to develop anything there.
  • How will Chance Hall, Jack Jones, and Drew Richmond progress? I've got the veterans penciled in as starters on the right side of the offensive line in Wiesman and Kendrick.  But with their freshman seasons under their belt, it will be interesting to see if the highly-touted Hall and Jones can crack the starting lineup; either way I think all four of those guys will play on that side of the line.  The biggest question for the offense is what happens at left tackle with Kyler Kerbyson's graduation.  Drew Richmond was redshirted this fall but there is a very real sense the job is his to lose coming into spring practice.  The Vols could certainly also try moving Hall or Kendrick over to that side, but Richmond blooming seems to be the most hopeful scenario.
  • What kind of quality will we get at safety? The biggest question on paper for Team 120 after losing Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil to graduation.  Todd Kelly Jr. has plenty of meaningful experience back there, but less so for Evan Berry.  Tennessee has a lot of talent coming into the secondary in February, but both early enrollees (Marquill Osborne and Desmond Henderson) are expected to play corner.  The Vols have plenty of athleticism back there, but will need Berry and Kelly to be steadier as they go.
Of course, some freshmen will play, and not just on special teams.  Daniel Bituli and JUCO Alexis Johnson could easily get in the rotation in the front seven, and there are a handful of big names still out there the Vols are hopeful to land as difference makers.  But for the first time since the Fulmer era, Tennessee doesn't need a true freshman or even a junior college transfer to come in and save the day anywhere.  Even last year on a nine win team, Tennessee was relying heavily on a true freshman at middle linebacker and had two true freshmen playing regularly in the offensive line.  This time, the cupboard is stocked.  For the first time in a long time, we've got a really good sense of what this team will look like coming into the year.  And you have to like what you see.