It is March, which means the best of college basketball season is here, and with No. 5 Tennessee primed to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, it’s easy to forget that spring football is almost here, as well.
Tennessee will kick off year two of the Jeremy Pruitt era on Aug. 31 against Georgia State at Neyland Stadium, but spring practice could be just as interesting with new faces taking the field on Thursday.
Here are a few of the big storylines ahead of spring practice:
Jim Chaney returns
Pruitt was forced to make his first major staff change this past offseason when Tyson Helton left for the head coaching gig at Western Kentucky.
Left without an offensive coordinator, Pruitt took more than a month to find Helton’s replacement, but once the dust finally settled, he had nabbed a proven commodity and a familiar face from division rival Georgia in Jim Chaney.
Under Helton, the Vols finished dead last in the conference in total offense, and were among the bottom in passing, rushing and receiving.
Enter Chaney, who lead Georgia to a No. 2 billing in total offense with nearly 500 yards a game.
Sure, it helped with the talent that he had at his disposal, but he helped bring that talent to Athens. It remains to be seen if he can replicate that in his second stint in Knoxville, and he’ll have his work cut out for him with a Tennessee offensive line that ranked in the 120s out of 130 FBS team in every offensive line category.
We won’t see the full ‘Chaney effect’ until the fall, but it will be interesting to see the strides the offense can make in the next couple of weeks.
This time a year ago, Jarrett Guarantano was the guy. Incoming Stanford transfer Keller Chryst didn’t participate until the summer.
Behind him were Will McBride and then-freshman early enrollee JT Shrout, and in the spring game, Guarantano performed like the starting quarterback.
This spring will be a little different. Chryst is out of the picture, McBride has transferred and the highly touted Shrout has a year under his belt.
Add in four star quarterback Brian Maurer, and this quarterback battle could be and intriguing part of the spring.
Based on his body of work and experience compared to the rest of the group, Guarantano will again be the starting quarterback until he isn’t, but will spring show marked improvement or will Shrout or Maurer make a case?
Defense under Ansley
Chaney wasn’t the only big name that Pruitt reeled in over the last couple of months.
After the departure of defensive backs coach Terry Fair, Pruitt went with some familiarity in Oakland Raiders defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley.
Pruitt had worked with Ansley in two different stops at Alabama, and trusted his experience in the SEC enough to name him defensive coordinator, replacing Kevin Sheerer who was moved to special teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach.
The defense saw improvement in 2018, jumping up 49th in total defense from 82nd in 2017, no small feat with a young secondary. That secondary has grown up a bit, and will look to build off of a solid 2018 campaign under Ansley.