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Most Important Vol: Appalachian State

Our writing staff’s weekly picks for each game’s most important player

Outback Bowl - Northwestern v Tennessee Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Our weekly feature returns for 2016, as our staff picks one Vol of particular importance each week, starting with Appalachian State on Thursday night:

Will Shelton - Darrin Kirkland Jr.

I don't think Appalachian State's defense is going to stop Tennessee's offense. I do think the Mountaineers could have a chance to keep up and/or dictate pace if their running game is able to find success. ASU was sixth nationally in rushing yards per game and yards per carry last season, and most of those yards return. Maybe Tennessee's defensive line can simply dominate up front and stop all this before it starts, but I'm not sure how elite we'll be at tackle in week one. That means if Tennessee is going to shut down the run game here they'll need plenty of help from the linebackers. We know Jalen Reeves-Maybin will do his thing, but Thursday could be the first of many strong impressions in the sophomore campaign of Darrin Kirkland Jr. Keeping things together in the middle and helping the Vol defense not get taken advantage of by Appalachian State's run game would be a great start.

Incipient_Senescence - Preston Williams

The opposite of Will. I have a lot of faith in the Tennessee defense, but the offense bogs down sometimes. Hurd is good at getting a few yards at a time, but it's hard to score consistently with four yards at a time. We talked about explosion last week, and it's time to develop some. So who's the deep threat? Yeah, I'll take him.

Volundore - Jonathan Kongbo

I guess that makes me the same as Will?

With a lot of lead time, I'm not worried about the offense. 45, 59, and 45 points in the last 3 games with a month or more to plan shows me that the offense is going to produce.

I'm curious, though, about the challenge that Appy's offense brings. The back end struggled against Bowling Green's aerial assault, so I want to see what the front 7 has against a strong rushing attack.

JRM and Kirkland are known commodities, but I have no idea what to expect from the D line. As Tuttle works back, someone in the middle needs to step up. This is a good opportunity for Kongbo to get some reps at tackle and/or end against a competent offense. He'll need the seasoning for the battles to come.

Chris Pendley - Mike DeBord

Let's gaze through the looking glass a little bit. Tennessee has come out in the first quarter on Thursday like a hurricane (not the Hurricanes, who are going to Boone later this year; have fun with that, Richt) and the Vols are up 17-0 after 1. Last year, we knew what was going to happen: any play that was designed to get more than 6 yards got ignored except for third down, there was a run or a swing/screen pass on first down, and Tennessee was trying to close out a 24-17 win.

That's dumb. You want to make the fans confident in the offense's ability to not go into a shell when they're up? Call down some Old Testament. Lay the hammer down.

And for crying out loud, call some [fulmerized] deep passes. Just because Jalen Hurd can get four yards a pop running against ten guys doesn't mean that he should, you know?

(ps CAM SUTTON BACK Y'ALL)

Justin Phillips - Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom

The last time we witnessed the Vols they were fashioning purple dunce caps for the smart kids from Northwestern. For all the great memories of the Outback Bowl beat down - Hurd tossing a Wildcat defender with one arm; Dobbs' pylon-dive; Barnett planting the quarterback two-feet deep into the Raymond James soil; Evan Berry's pick-six to punctuate the victory - two other images stick out for me: First, DeBord's unveiling of this strange offensive alignment called the "I-formation" wherein a lead blocker paves the way for our stud running back. Second, tight ends running untouched for huge chunk plays. Ellis and Wolf accounted for 98 yards of the team’s 194 yards gained through the air. I expect more of this for Team 120.

Appalachian State's defensive strength lies up the middle, particularly with the interior linebackers, who have to deal with the option of Dobbs, Hurd, or Kamara keeping the ball. They might just lose track of Wolf and Croom sneaking into the open field and doing their best imitation of Will Ferrell in Old School streaking toward the checkerboards. Welcome to Tennessee, Coach Scott.

Hunter Turner - Micah Abernathy or whoever starts at at second safety position

Hey, remember last year, when Bowling Green torched Emmanuel Moseley and put the fear of God in Volunteer fans? Yeah? Then let's not pretend that we're all totally one-hundred percent confident in our new starting safeties until we see them in action. We've heard nothing but good things about the combination of Abernathy and Bob Shoop, but let's wait until we leave with a dominating win in our pockets before checking this off our list of off-season concerns.

Trey - Brett Kendrick/Coleman Thomas/¯\(°_o)/¯ gets minutes at RT, and the collective hamstrings, knees, ankles and ACLs of everybody else

With Chance Hall out for a few more weeks and an opponent whose best shot is probably Mike DeBord and Steve Stripling falling into some kind of 2007 Groundhog Day timeloop, Tennessee has two pressing needs: finding somebody who can hold down that right tackle spot for a few weeks, and keeping anybody else from getting hurt. Let's come out like a tornado wrapped in a hurricane made of chainsaws made of lasers, tastelessly run up the score before halftime, and spend the last hour listening to the announcers boredly talk again about one-score losses while the backups get some reps.