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Who could return, who won’t return for Tennessee football in 2024

The regular season may be over, but it’s an extremely busy time.

Texas A&M v Tennessee Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Tennessee wrapped up their regular season on Saturday with a dominant win over Vanderbilt. And now the chaos begins. Not only will the coaching carousel and early signing period take place, but the all-important transfer portal window will also open.

That means you need to have some sort of idea of your scholarship numbers, and that situation is more complicated as we continue to work through the NCAA’s COVID-year rule. Right now, it’s not as easy as making an NFL decision. You can either return for a free year as a senior, choose to hit the portal, or go pro. All of that needs to be sorted out quickly so coaches can set up their rosters for the following season.

“Huge implications on what you’re gonna be as you move forward as a program,” Josh Heupel said of the next few weeks. “So, yes, there’s a lot going on all at one time. High school, portal, your players, all of it. And you gotta manage it all. You gotta have a great staff that communicates at a really high level and do the right things, make the right decisions.”

While it doesn’t always mean everything, you can get an idea of where things stand based off of who does — or who does not — participate in Senior Day festivities. For Tennessee, that means who does or does not run through the T for the final time.

For those seniors who don’t, that a pretty solid indicator that they’re leaning towards returning.

Tennessee players that DID NOT participate in Senior Day festivities

(All have a final season of eligibility)

C Cooper Mays

OG Jackson Lampley

OG Javontez Spraggins

OT Dayne Davis

LB Keenan Pili

CB Doneiko Slaughter

Our take: Getting Mays and Spraggins back up front would be a massive boost for a Tennessee offensive front that is going to see plenty of change this offseason. Lampley and Davis would be nice depth to have back too.

Keenan Pili never even got going this year, but getting him back with the exit of Aaron Beasley would be huge. Tennessee struggled down the stretch at linebacker, and Pili’s veteran presence would ease the transition. Slaughter, who played much of the season hurt, would also be a big pull back with several guys exiting the cornerback room.

Key Tennessee players that DID participate in Senior Day festivities

(All have a final season of eligibility)

DT Omari Thomas

DT Omarr Norman-Lott

DE Tyler Baron

CB Brandon Turnage

CB Gabe Jeudy-Lally

CB Warren Burrell

STAR Tamarion McDonald

S Wesley Walker

QB Gaston Moore

OT John Campbell

RB Jabari Small

WR Bru McCoy

Our take: Again, nothing concrete here. This isn’t the end of the story, but perhaps it’s an indicator.

Tyler Baron and Omari Thomas likely have NFL interest and will explore that over the next few weeks.

The secondary pieces are the most interesting part here. Tamarion McDonald, Wesley Walker and Gabe Jeudy-Lally were massive contributors this year and could stabilize a big transition in the secondary. Getting any of those pieces back would be a big boost, especially with Kamal Hadden and Jaylen McCollough officially gone.

Tennessee players that have exhausted eligibility

EDGE Roman Harrison

LB Aaron Beasley

DT Kurrott Garland

DT Elijah Simmons

CB Kamal Hadden

S Jaylen McCollough

QB Joe Milton

TE McCallan Castles

TE Jacob Warren

OG Ollie Lane

OT JJ Crawford

WR Ramel Keyton

K Charles Campbell

Returner Dee Williams

Our take: You’re going to hear a lot about the tight end situation over the next month. Ethan Davis will obviously step up, but Tennessee really doesn’t have anything else ready to roll behind him. Heupel and his staff will need a couple more guys ready to play.

Tennessee will have roughly a month off before getting to their bowl game. During that time, tons of decisions — both by the staff and individual players — will shape the roster for the 2024 season. Expect to start seeing some of those decisions get made as early as this week.