Spring practice opens today for Tennessee football. It’s going to be the first time we get to see Jeremy Pruitt and his new staff go to work with this roster as they get ready for their first football season in Knoxville. This team is full of question marks, but we should start getting some answers over the next few weeks. Here’s what we will be watching for.
We know Tennessee is going to get some help in the form of Keller Chryst later this summer, but both Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride have the opportunity to take the lead in the quarterback battle this spring. Each were able to get some limited experience under their belt in the second half of the 2017 season, but it’s tough (and probably not all that fair) to draw many conclusions when you consider how banged up the offensive line was down the stretch.
They’ll also be playing in a totally new offensive scheme with Tyson Helton calling the shots for the Volunteers. Helton will also be coaching the quarterbacks, so he’s going to figure out firsthand what exactly Tennessee has in their quarterback room. I would expect an open competition throughout the spring and into the fall, but I just wonder if Guarantano or McBride will be able to establish a lead before Chryst arrives in June.
Offensive Line Reps
Two starters in Trey Smith and Chance Hall won’t be available for Will Friend and Tyson Helton this spring. Additionally, reserves Nathan Niehaus and K’Rojhn Calbert are likely to be sidelined. That leaves you with seven scholarship bodies on the offensive line for the spring.
That’s not good news for a team that is going to have to find a way to replace three key contributors up front. It means true freshmen and early enrollees Ollie Lane and Jerome Carvin are going to be baptized by fire in spring ball. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m sure the staff would much rather be working on piecing together some chemistry with the starting five.
The offensive line is probably going to be a struggle for Tennessee this fall, but we knew that going in. The good news is that Trey Smith is expected back for the fall, which will be a massive boost — wherever they decide to play him at.
Tyler Byrd and Carlin Fils-Aime
After talking about it for seemingly two years, Tyler Byrd is finally going to get his shot to play at cornerback. It was a move made out of necessity, with Tennessee needing the numbers on the other side of the ball. Jeremy Pruitt announced both Byrd and Fils-Aime would begin camp with the defensive backs, at least for the first week.
When Tennessee struck out with top cornerbacks on signing day, you had to figure a move like this was coming. I’m fascinated to see if they can stick on defense.
New Defensive Scheme
Speaking of defense, Tennessee is expected to roll out a new 3-4 base scheme this season. Expect some growing pains as the roster transitions, but Tennessee does have some decent piece in the front seven.
We’re going to get our first look at a potential depth chart this spring as Pruitt finds out who his nose tackle and stand-up edge rushers will be. How will the new scheme affect guys like Shy Tuttle and Jonathan Kongbo? Can guys like Darrell Taylor and Deandre Johnson handle outside linebacker duties? We’re about to find out.