It’s February 20th. National signing day is behind us. Spring practice starts exactly a month from today. Outside of a couple graduate-transfer options, you’ve got what you’ve got, roster-wise.
Today, let’s dig into this Tennessee offense. It was nothing short of a disaster last year under Butch Jones and Larry Scott, but new hope has arrived in the form of new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton.
Helton was one of Jeremy Pruitt’s first hires after he took the job at Tennessee. He will be tasked with turning this mess of an offense around, which will be no easy task. Let’s take an initial look at his personnel for the 2018 season.
Projected Starter: Jarrett Guarantano
In the mix: Will McBride
Neither Guarantano or McBride really showed anything special in their limited opportunities last season. I think we can give each guy a mulligan though, considering the banged up offensive line they were playing behind.
A new offensive system will be put in as Tyson Helton takes control. Helton will also serve as the quarterbacks coach for Tennessee, so I’m fascinated to watch the growth at this position.
I’m not so sure it’s a given that Guarantano automatically gets this job, but I’ll opt for the slightly more experienced passer here. Jarrett played pretty timid last season, not really taking any risks with the football. He just never looked comfortable with what he was seeing. Maybe coach Helton’s new scheme will allow him to play with a bit more confidence.
Another thing to keep in mind here — Tennessee has been connected to two graduate-transfer quarterbacks already. Don’t be shocked if they add another arm to the mix.
Projected Starter: Ty Chandler
In the mix: Tim Jordan, Carlin Fils-Aime, Trey Coleman, Jeremy Banks
This was the easiest call of this entire depth chart prediction. Chandler was one of the few offensive pieces that really flashed last season. With John Kelly headed to the NFL, Chandler is expected to step into the lead back role. His explosiveness and homerun hitting ability is something that I’m looking forward to watching next fall. Just take a look at the Kentucky game last season if you want to get excited.
It’s pretty crowded behind Chandler, which is a good thing. We saw Jordan and Fils-Aime get some work at various points in the 2017 season, but I’m interested to see if freshman Jeremy Banks gets any run early on.
The running backs are far from a concern for me. I’m more worried about the starting five on the offensive line and whether or not they will be able to get a consistent push. That certainly was not the case last season.
Projected Outside Starters: Jauan Jennings (?), Marquez Callaway
Projected Slot: Brandon Johnson
In the mix: Josh Palmer, Latrell Williams, Jacquez Jones, Alontae Taylor, Jordan Murphy
The obvious question here is Jauan Jennings, who claimed he was back with the Tennessee football program on Instagram. No official word has been given from Tennessee, but Pruitt suggested that he would have an opportunity to earn his way back during the offseason. Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer echoed that. Jauan has re-enrolled at Tennessee, which is all we really know to this point.
Jennings’ addition from a pure talent standpoint would be massive. Whether or not you want to add him back into this locker room is a different conversation.
Whether Jennings is back or not, this new offensive staff needs to get the ball to Marquez Callaway. The upcoming junior exploded onto the college football scene against Georgia Tech, making three truly game-changing plays for Tennessee. He’s dripping with talent, yet the previous staff didn’t seem all that interested in getting him involved.
A guy that I’m really interested in is Josh Palmer, whose name kept popping up in camp last season. If Jennings doesn’t return, Palmer is a guy that could emerge as a starter on the outside.
An x-factor here is Alontae Taylor, one of Tennessee’s highest rated signees. I’d guess that he could push for early playing time with very little experience in front of him outside of the top three receivers.
Projected Starter: Dominick Wood-Anderson
In the mix: Eli Wolf, LaTrell Bumphus, Austin Pope, Jacob Warren
The Ethan Wolf era is over. Is it as simple as plugging in his little brother Eli? It’s possible, but far from a given. Eli has plenty of competition behind him, starting with the nation’s number one JUCO tight end in Dominick Wood-Anderson. As you may remember, Tennessee pulled off the upset for Wood-Anderson, pulling him away from an Alabama lean. With everyone starting at ground zero in this new offense, I’ll guess the more athletic Wood-Anderson has as good of a shot as any to land the job.
LaTrell Bumphus was another name that we heard quite a bit about in camp last fall. He never turned that into playing time, however. Can he take the next step forward? This is one spot on the roster that is wide open. The good news is that there are plenty of talented bodies to fill the position.
OTs: Drew Richmond, Marcus Tatum
OGs: Trey Smith, Chance Hall
C: To be determined
In the mix: Jerome Carvin, Devante Brooks, Jahmir Johnson, Ryan Johnson, K’Rojhn Calbert, Riley Locklear, Nathan Niehaus
The offensive line is the single hardest group to nail down. There are a lot of bodies with experience, but none really have a true home. It’s a solid bet that Richmond, Tatum and Smith will be three of your starting five, but from there — I’m just guessing.
Chance Hall has only played right tackle for Tennessee, but he has enough size to kick inside. He struggled with speed at times as a sophomore, so this may be his natural fit anyways. Again, just a guess.
Stud sophomore Trey Smith is a likely first round selection down the road and could probably play any of the five positions up front. Tackles are usually hot commodities in the NFL, so I’ll be interested to see if that’s where he ends up after playing at the guard position for most of last season.
I know this is a projection piece, but I truly have no clue who is going to man the center position in 2018. Riley Locklear and Nathan Niehaus were both rated as guards coming out of high school, so maybe it’s one of them who slides to the middle. Could it be Trey Smith? This position is one that I’ll be watching next month in the spring.