It’s this time of year that we start to see some new faces emerge. Training camp has just opened and we’ve got just over a month until the Volunteers hit the field in Atlanta. Tennessee has several questions to answer — and the answers to those questions may come in the form of a newcomer.
With that in mind, here are my five newcomers that will make the biggest impact on the field in 2017.
1. Shaq Wiggins
It’s no secret that Tennessee struggled on just about every level of defense last year. The secondary was one of the worst. Inconsistent play along with plenty of injuries left Tennessee needing to score 40 points just to have a chance to win. Now without Cameron Sutton, Tennessee is going to have to find a fresh face to rely on in the secondary.
That’s where Shaq Wiggins comes in — at least that’s where we hope he comes in. Wiggins is a graduate transfer coming from Louisville by way of Georgia. He emerged as a difference maker for the Cardinals during his sophomore campaign. That just happens to be the only full season of work that Wiggins has turned in. That 2015 season netted Wiggins with two interceptions and 11 passes defensed. He appeared in just six games in 2016 due to injuries.
Now a senior, Tennessee is certainly hoping to get the 2015 version of Wiggins. Adding him into the mix will only strengthen what is a deep position, but very much unproven. I’d expect Wiggins to start off the bat for the Volunteers.
2. Trey Smith
By now, you know all about Trey Smith. The number one overall recruit has been in Knoxville since January, getting plenty of work in as he prepares for his first season of college football. The talented offensive lineman is expected to be one of five starters up front for the Vols, but we don’t quite know where just yet. He’s been working at guard mostly, but as Butch Jones has already mentioned, it’s all about finding that right combination. I’d expect to see Smith in a couple of different spots in 2017, but he should add talent to an already experienced group up front for Tennessee.
3. Ty Chandler
Gone are Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd. Tennessee’s backfield will get a totally new look in 2017, but the keys to the car are in good hands with John Kelly. The question is, who backs up Kelly? My money (and just about everyone else’s) is on freshman Ty Chandler. The four star recruit could see expansive playing time early on, giving what is going to be some much needed rest to John Kelly.
4. Deandre Johnson
Tennessee lost Derek Barnett, Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis. That’s a lot of production walking out the door. Jonathan Kongbo is the guy everyone is talking about, but Deandre Johnson is going to be a factor in the rotation immediately. Johnson was an early enrollee and has turned heads since he arrived in Knoxville. He’s a darkhorse to replace at least some of the sack production that Barnett left behind and a backup plan if some of the talent ahead of him doesn’t pan out.
5. Will Ignont
There was a point in time during last season where linebacker depth was really hurting Tennessee. That should be fixed up for 2017, thanks to the hiring of new strength coach Rock Gullickson as well as the signings of Shanon Reid and Will Ignont. At least to this point, Ignont seems to have the upper hand. The four star freshman out of Huntsville has already drawn praise from Bob Shoop early on in camp.
He’s getting a chance to show what he can do with Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Daniel Bituli not quite 100 percent yet. Tennessee has plenty of veterans at linebacker, but Ignont could be a shot in the arm off the bench if needed.