Now that we are in mid-June, we can finally start looking toward the 2019 football season and start making some concrete evaluations.
The Tennessee Volunteers football program is coming off of another losing season after notching a 5-7 record in 2018. With his first full year behind him, I’m sure it’s safe to say that Jeremy Pruitt will also be making some evaluations of his own.
Even though the Vols finished below .500 last year, there were still some bright spots on the roster. As the year went on, the picture became a bit clearer in regards to who is cut out to play for Pruitt and his staff.
So who are some players to keep an eye on this year? I’m going to pick three underclassmen and three upperclassmen and give my reasons why I think they’ll take the next step in their development.
We’ll start first with the youngsters then move on up to the elders afterward.
1) CB Bryce Thompson - Sophomore
Thompson was an absolute stud last season and with another year of Pruitt’s tutelage, he should be even better.
In fact, he was recently named third-team preseason All-SEC by Phil Steele after finishing his freshman season with three interceptions, which tied him for third in the SEC and first among all freshmen defensive backs.
He was also graded as the nation’s top freshman defensive back, according to Pro Football Focus’ college system.
Tennessee possesses two of the nation's four highest-graded true freshman cornerbacks through 11 weeks of action this seasonhttps://t.co/IFNnDtMugb pic.twitter.com/wjbuiKi1T3— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 15, 2018
Both Thompson and his teammate Alontae Taylor should form a nice duo for the Vols over the next two years.
Which leads us to our next player....
2) CB Alontae Taylor - Sophomore
Yup. Led ya straight into that one.
Taylor was initially recruited as a wide receiver until Pruitt decided to move him to defensive back last summer. It was a curious move at the time, but it has certainly paid off as Taylor has essentially had a seamless transition into his new role.
His length, natural speed, and agility make him a perfect fit for what Pruitt wants to do in the defensive backfield. As he continues to settle in, he should continue to get better and better.
Pairing him with Thompson on the other side should give opposing quarterbacks fits. There will be plenty of games where Thompson is avoided, leaving Taylor plenty of opportunity to make some plays of his own.
Everything should come together nicely for Taylor to have a big year in 2019.
3) LB Quavaris Crouch - Freshman
It’s always hard to gauge what a true freshman will do in their first year (see J.J. Peterson) but something tells me that Crouch will be ready to go once camp begins.
Crouch is an athletic freak. He was ranked as the No. 3 overall athlete in the country by 247’s Composite Rankings and was the best player to come out of North Carolina. He received offers from Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan, Florida, and others. Bleacher Report said Crouch was “one of the best players in the 2019 recruiting class”, so it’s pretty clear that the kid knows how to play football - and knows how to play it well.
The thought is that Pruitt and Ansley will try him out at linebacker, a position he played in high school along with running back. Crouch’s presence will be a tremendous boost for the linebacker corps and he’ll add valuable depth to a position that’s integral to Pruitt’s defense.
Below are some of Crouch’s highlights. The first one in this video is a tackle for loss from the linebacker position:
Trust me, there were plenty of other players I could have chosen to put here and I probably could’ve made a compelling argument for all of the others, as well.
That’s because the Vols are going to be relying on a ton of youth this season - again - so they will need major contributions from all involved.
But if these three players can kick it into high gear, both the program and fans will have something to cheer about again.
Honorable Mentions: Darnell Wright, Wanya Morris, Eric Gray, Jeremy Banks