Now that Jeremy Pruitt is entering his second season as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, he has a much better of idea of who will carry the load for this team in 2019.
It’s no secret the Vols struggled on offense in 2018. It’s one of the reasons why Jim Chaney was brought in to replace Tyson Helton, who departed for the head coaching job at Western Kentucky at season’s end.
Chaney is known for getting the ball to his best players and should have no problem identifying his go-to-guys early on in the offseason.
But who can he not afford to lose? In any instance?
I’m glad you asked. Here are the three most indispensable players on Tennessee’s offense.
3. Marquez Callaway
Callaway isn’t going to blow anyone out of the water with elite speed, quickness, or athleticism, but he brings a vertical dynamic to this offense that can’t be matched outside of Josh Palmer.
He is one of the best in the SEC at working the sideline and has demonstrated a knack for gaining yards after the catch, which he’s shown during punt returns, too. The senior receiver has also made his hay across the middle of the field at times. Point is, Callaway’s not just a vertical threat.
But the kid’s greatest attributes are his hands and his ability to track the ball in the air. How many times have we seen either Jarrett Guarantano or Quinton Dormady lob one up, just to see Callaway come down with the ball in the most dramatic fashion possible? How many one-handed catches have we seen from him?
Tennessee has depth at wide receiver, even with Jauan Jennings’ recent knee surgery ( he should be ready by fall camp, anyway), but if Callaway were to go down, it’d be almost impossible to replace him.
2. Ty Chandler
No joke, the Vols are l-o-a-d-e-d in the backfield, but Chandler is a matchup nightmare for offenses and should have a huge role in Chaney’s offense.
I’d like to think he’ll be used in a similar fashion parallel to D’Andre Swift, Georgia’s junior running back. Swift was a major factor in the passing game, where he finished third on the team in receptions last year - Chandler finished fourth.
For some reason, he wasn’t featured like he should have been in 2018, but that will change with Chaney at the helm.
But the thing with Chandler is simple: he is a home run threat. Every time he touches the ball, he has a chance to score.
You don’t find players like that often, especially in Tennessee’s case as of late. If Chandler were to be removed from the equation, the Vols would lose their best playmaker.
And that’s never good for a team scratching and clawing to find its way back to relevance.
1. QB Jarrett Guarantano
Whether you like it or not, Tennessee’s fate in 2019 directly rests upon Guarantano’s shoulders. The Vols will only go as far as he will, which means he must stay on the field in an effective capacity.
Our own Austin Burlage (Power T Tape) summed it up quite nicely a few weeks ago via Twitter:
My JG take of the day:— Power T Tape (@Power_T_Tape) June 10, 2019
You can have your opinion on him, I have my own. But what is inarguable is that our season is absolutely and completely dependent on him. His health and production are the difference between 3-9 and 8-4, no hyperbole.
I mean, I could pretty much end with that, but I’m going to continue.
While Guarantano hasn’t been Tennessee’s sole cause of catastrophe, he sure hasn’t helped the situation much outside of making sure the ball doesn’t wind up in his opponents hands.
This isn’t a knock on the redshirt junior. Not at all. He is by far and away the best option the Vols have at quarterback.
Which is exactly why is he the most indispensable player on offense and the entire team.
If Guarantano goes down, you can bet your ass this entire offense will fold. I like Tennessee’s backup situation, but only to the extent where I can continue to call them backups. I always appreciate a nice trial-by-fire approach, but when you are in the midst of two straight sub-.500 seasons, I’d like to not have to rely on a backup quarterback to carry the load.
JG still has plenty of room for growth, but if he can step it up this year and stay healthy - that is, if his offensive line doesn’t get him hurt or killed - then Tennessee’s 2019 outlook will be much, much brighter.