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Heupel explains how Cedric Tillman will deal with added defensive attention this year

TransPerfect Music City Bowl - Purdue v Tennessee Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Tennessee offense is ready for year two under Josh Heupel, looking for even more points and yardage with Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman returning. It was quite the dramatic turnaround coming out of the Jeremy Pruitt era — truly night and day.

Once Hooker took over, the Volunteers became one of the most productive offense in the entire country. A big reason why was the emergence of Cedric Tillman, who became one of the SEC’s best receivers. He did his best work against the best teams, torching Alabama and Georgia.

Tillman passed up an NFL opportunity for one more season in Knoxville, and expectations are high.

“A year ago who thought Ced was going to have the year he had or Velus was going to become a high draft pick like he became, or JaVonta was going to have the impact he had inside of our offense,” Heupel said during SEC Media Days. “That’s the great thing about college football, a quarter of your roster is turning over every year. A lot of great players leave. But with that there is great opportunity.”

Everybody knows about No. 4 in orange by now. Defensive coordinators will be scheming to take him away, giving him plenty of double teams or over-the-top help. It’ll be up to the Tennessee staff to move him around and get him one-on-one opportunities.

“Certainly Ced is going to get a ton of attention,” Heupel said. “It’s our role as offensive staff to put him in a position to create isolations, one on one, find a way to get him the football.”

Tennessee’s offensive pace will likely help accomplish that as well. Defenses already struggle to get set against the Volunteers, and putting any sort of plan into motion in the 15-20 seconds you have between plays will be difficult. Another factor that will help Tillman will be the emergence of any other receiver behind him, which is something we’ll be watching closely once camp begins.

Jalin Hyatt is the guy everyone expects, while Bru McCoy is a complete wildcard. Jimmy Calloway, Ramel Keyton, Walker Merrill and a host of other younger players will all have their shots.

“It’s imperative for us offensively that the other guys step up and play at a championship level, too,” Heupel added. “Very proud of Jalin Hyatt and the steps he’s made. I think there’s great competition inside of our program at the slot position. On the outside, this training camp there will be great competition as well. We’re going to need somebody to step forward, multiple guys to step forward, at all those positions.”

The wide receiver depth chart will be one of the top stories we’ll be following throughout training camp, which should get going here in just a couple of weeks now.