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Josh Heupel talks depth, staff continuity ahead of fall camp

Heupel is ready to take on year three.

Syndication: The Tennessean Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Two years ago, Josh Heupel took the Tennessee job knowing the challenges ahead. Following Jeremy Pruitt’s exit, Heupel was looking at over 30 names in the transfer portal which created a real depth challenge for he and his staff. Just running a simple practice the way he wanted was difficult.

Fast forward to now — things are beginning to get right. Just on the surface, Tennessee’s roster looks so much more complete than it was, perhaps even looking back to a year ago.

“We’re close to 85 (scholarship players),” Heupel said during Tennessee’s media day on Tuesday. “We’ve got real depth, real competition really at every position. And that’s true.”

Particularly on the defensive side of the ball, Tennessee has options. They’ve got a boatload of bodies at cornerback, real depth — both young and old — at linebacker. They’re going to be able to have a legitimate rotation up front. All of that should add up to Tim Banks’ best season to date in Knoxville.

There’s no shortage of weapons offensively, both at receiver and running back. Under center you’ve got the veteran Joe Milton being backed up by five-star freshman Nico Iamaleava.

“There’s a lot of young guys, 18 of ’em that were with us during the course of the spring ball,” Heupel continued. “I expect them to be a much more mature and complete player. We step on the field tomorrow, but certainly we grow during the course of training camp. There’s just great competition everywhere. Our athleticism, strength, all those things have continued to improve our functional movement. We’re continuing to take strides, but this is the time of year where we’ve gotta go out.”

Another bonus? The groundwork has been laid going into year three, and Heupel’s staff hasn’t seen too many departures to this point. The biggest has obviously been former offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, but Heupel’s promotions from within have created smooth transitions.

“The people that we’ve been able to promote have been within the building, within those position units — they have connections and relationships with those players,” Heupel said. “So it’s not like we’re starting over. We promote somebody. I think it’s really important inside of your program. It’s certainly important where we took this program over and trying to build something at every phase, every single year. We’ve never had to completely reset.”

Heupel promoted quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle to offensive coordinator this year. He promoted analyst Alec Abeln to tight ends coach. Both moves keep continuity within the offense following the departure of Golesh to South Florida.

“Chose (Halzle) because we’ve got great trust in him,” Heupel said. “Philosophically, very similar. See the game through the same type of lens. It’s been a seamless transition. Our players have great trust in him. Excited about what he’s done up until this point.”

Tennessee finished the year ranked first in total offense one year ago. Halzle has a tough act to follow, but the pieces are in place to make his first year as a coordinator a success.

The Volunteers will officially hit the grass on Wednesday for their first practice of fall camp. Tennessee will open with Virginia on September 2nd in Nashville.