Athlon Sports got opposing SEC coaches to talk about each other anonymously once again this year. This is always one of the most interesting pieces to read before the season starts to get a feel for how programs view each other heading into the year.
Over the past few years, Tennessee has been the punchline of these articles, with several coaches pointing how bad of shape the program was under and after Butch Jones. Slowly but surely, that’s starting to change.
Entering year two under Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee isn’t dealing with big expectations, but most feel like they are ready to take a step or two in the right direction.
Here’s what some anonymous coaches around the league had to say about the Vols, along with some thoughts about the quotes.
“Jarrett Guarantano is a longtime starter who has been through it with that program. Combine him with Jim Chaney, a veteran play caller who knows the program and the roster, and in the second year of Jeremy Pruitt’s culture they should be better.”
There’s a reason Guarantano keeps popping up as a potential breakout candidate in 2019. He had some good moments in a terrible situation last year and has a little more help up front on the offensive line in 2019.
“There is no reason that offense was so bad last year. I know the line wasn’t good, but they have players.”
Tennessee ranked near the bottom of the FBS in total offense in 2018. Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton took the Western Kentucky job, opening the door for Jeremy Pruitt to hire Jim Chaney. That, along with another year of seasoning for Jarrett Guarantano, and a couple of five-star freshmen tackles, has the offensive arrow pointing up a little bit in Knoxville.
”Secondary is an obvious strength; they were playing freshman corners last year and now those guys are back. They run a lot of stuff out of the nickel, too, so they’ll be able to do even more this year.”
Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson are a big reason why a lot of people think the Tennessee defense can improve in 2019 after ranking 49th in 2018. After taking their lumps as freshmen, they’re back as a strength of this roster as sophomores. Tennessee could have a pretty nice looking defense if they can get a consistent pass rush going.
“They just need to get to a bowl this year and beat Vanderbilt and Missouri and the conference teams who aren’t as talented on their rosters. Just show that the plan is working long term.”
This is a good take that every Tennessee fan will agree with.
”Butch Jones did a better job recruiting than what they’re telling media. The players he brought in are still playing the bulk of the time, and not a lot of the Pruitt recruits have broken past them on the depth chart, though that could change this year. They’ve recruited well so far for the system Jeremy wants.”
Butch recruited well, but how many of those guys transferred out or had their careers derailed by injuries? It’s more than a few. Look no further than the offensive line in 2017 and 2018 for proof.
Furthermore, we’ve only seen Pruitt’s 2018 class get a chance to hit the field — the one that Pruitt didn’t even get to start on until he got the job at Tennessee in December. The 2019 group, which features four players that were inside of the top 50 overall, should have a much better shot at playing right off the bat.