It’s finally time for some actual football. For the first time since Jeremy Pruitt took the job, we’re going to see a real, live football game. At least as real as you’ll find during the spring. Pruitt has promised a return to a more conventional format and has said all week that he wants the game to be exciting.
So what are the main storylines heading into this one? Let’s dive in.
Our heads have been spinning this spring trying to keep up with the ever-changing roster moves that this staff has made. Multiple players have made multiple position changes over the past few week, giving the coaches at least a look in a new spot.
Two newcomers might be the most interesting players to watch on Saturday. Alontae Taylor moved to cornerback after initially working as a receiver, where most people thought he would end up. Another freshman, Greg Emerson, flipped to offensive guard from his defensive line spot.
Tyler Byrd, Carlin Fils-Aime, Princeton Fant, Matthew Butler and LaTrell Bumphus have also changed positions a couple of times over the spring. It’s unclear if these players will get time in multiple spots, but that’s something I’ll have an eye on.
With Trey Smith, K’Rojhn Calbert and Chance Hall missing from spring activities, things have been thin up front for Tennessee. You can probably point to those injuries as the reason why Pruitt has flipped some defensive lineman over to the offensive side.
We won’t see the starting combination on Saturday, but we will see some new faces go to work. I’m fascinated to see what Greg Emerson has to offer, along with guys like Ollie Lane and Jerome Carvin. Has Drew Richmond made improvements? Who will get time working as the center? Hopefully some of these questions will get answered.
We’re expecting a new defensive scheme to debut on Saturday as Tennessee flips from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 base. The staff will tell you that it’s not a big deal, but you’re going to see players working in new spots. You’re going to see pass rushers standing up on the edge as outside linebackers. Guys like Kyle Phillips and Jonathan Kongbo will play more of an inside role.
In the secondary, Pruitt has promised a more aggressive secondary, complete with press-man coverage. The only problem is that corner might be one of the weakest parts of the roster. That’s no excuse for Pruitt, though. He said talent isn’t the issue, his guys just simply have to learn how to play the game.
We’ve gotten absolutely nothing from the coaching staff about the state of the quarterbacks. We know what they want out of the position, but no specifics about Jarrett Guarantano or Will McBride.
Each guy will be tasked with operating out of Tyson Helton’s new offensive scheme, which we will be getting out first look at. I’ll be interested to see if either guy can separate from the other as we await the arrival of Keller Chryst this summer. This starting position will be won in August, but both Guarantano and McBride have a chance to get a jump on Chryst.
Remember Marquez Callaway exploding onto the scene last year against Georgia Tech? You would think that a coaching staff would want to feed threat consistently. Instead, Callaway got lost in the mix and was seldom targeted. There’s no excuse for that. I want to see Tyson Helton drawing up plays for Callaway and getting him the football.
The same can be said of Ty Chandler. This guy looked electric in his limited time on the football field. This staff has gone after bigger backs on the recruiting trail, but I’m still hoping Chandler gets the bulk of the load and plenty of opportunities to hit some home runs this fall.
Here are the rosters for the game.