10 biggest questions (and answers) heading into Tennessee's fall camp
As one would expect, Tennessee heads into Jeremy Pruitt’s second season with plenty of rebuilding left. In case you haven’t been keeping up with the Vols over the past decade, their fall from grace has been quite dramatic.
Here are 10 questions and answers heading into fall camp:
1. How will the Vols use Jarrett Guarantano?
Despite being able to run, Guarantano seems like a quarterback better suited for the pocket. With his feet in the proper position, Guarantano’s accuracy improves as opposed to being on the run. However, moving Guarantano out of the pocket might be the best way to keep him out of harm’s way. It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Jim Chaney uses Guarantano’s skills.
As far as off the field, UT’s coaches should make Guarantano the face of the program. That’s certainly a load for a team that is still incredibly average at best. However, Guarantano proved he will say all the right things at SEC Media Days. The media won’t like Guarantano’s guarded nature, but that’s exactly what the Vols will need when the going get tough — as it most likely will.
2. What if Jauan Jennings stays healthy?
Having a healthy Jennings gives the Vols a formidable group at receiver. However, Jennings has had trouble staying out of the training room due to multiple injuries. Jennings’ ability to high-point a ball makes him a perfect receiver for Guarantano, who can struggle with his accuracy.
Combining a healthy Jennings with Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer can be a very tough trio to defend.
3. Is Ty Chandler ready for a breakout year?
Chandler amassed 630 rushing yards and 183 receiving yards. Look for that latter number to improve — perhaps dramatically. Chandler has a special ability to catch the ball out of the backfield — even on a bad throw — and get up field quickly. That could be key if Guarantano finds himself in trouble.
The Vols have other tailbacks that have been productive, but none has the explosiveness of Chandler.
4. Will the Vols go young and inexperienced on the offensive line and, if so, how will they respond?
This seems to be a likely path up front. Freshmen Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright were projected as starters as soon as they committed to UT as 5-star prospects. They could be UT’s starting tackles. Transfer Brandon Kennedy isn’t young but has very little experience during his time at Alabama.
If the Vols go with a young and inexperienced offensive line, there will be issues with communication. However, if UT’s coaches go in that direction, it will be a clear indication that Morris and Wright have special talent to get on the field as freshmen.
5. What if Trey Smith is healthy enough to play?
If Smith is able to return to full health from blood clots that have sidelined him for much of the past 2 seasons, it would be huge for the Vols. Smith can play tackle or guard. That would give the Vols some flexibility — and the touted freshmen some relief. However, left guard seems like the most likely position if he returns.
Having Smith back on the field doesn’t mean he’ll be the same player that showed incredible flashes as a freshman. Smith’s conditioning could be an issue and it remains to be seen what kind of player he’ll be if he’s forced to continue to take medicine to control his blood clot issue.
6. Will defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon be eligible?
The Vols could certainly use Solomon, who transferred from Michigan in the offseason. He would provide depth and playmaking ability at a position in which the Vols could use some help. However, the NCAA seems intent on cracking down on transfers. That could hurt Solomon’s chances.
Solomon has proven he can be a play at a Power 5 school. He appeared in every game as a freshman at Michigan.
7. Will Darrell Taylor’s consistency show up?
Tennessee’s coaches moved Taylor from defensive end to linebacker. Maybe he’ll be more comfortable. Maybe he’ll be more consistent. Taylor recorded 8 sacks last season, but 7 occurred in two games. He also had only 11 tackles for loss despite the 8 sacks. At last check, the Vols have 12 games scheduled this season. It would be nice if Taylor would show up for more of them.
8. Will the Vols have the same confidence they had at SEC Media Days?
Taylor guaranteed the Vols would make a bowl game. Fellow linebacker Daniel Bituli said the Vols were close to competing for a championship level. There were plenty of good vibes in Hoover. Will that continue as tough coaching rains down on a team with plenty of areas of concern?
9. Will Tennessee make a bowl game?
Taylor guaranteed it, so it must be so, right? We’ll see. Missing a bowl game would have to be considered a significant failure if the Vols fall short this season. It was obvious that Pruitt was upset about not making a bowl game last season. He’ll be even more frustrated if UT misses another bowl game with a much easier schedule. Fans certainly won’t appreciate being excluded from the postseason once again. It would mark the third consecutive season without a bowl trip, matching the postseason drought from 2011-13.
10. Will UT’s coaches be on the same page?
Clearly, Pruitt didn’t like the offense that former offensive coordinator Tyson Helton dialed up last year. If UT’s coaching staff isn’t on the same page in 2019, then that could undermine Pruitt’s tenure longterm. Just ask former UT coach Derek Dooley about that. It’s certainly worth noting that the Vols will have new play callers on each side of the ball. Derrick Ansley will handle the play-calling duties on defense. Jim Chaney will handle that job on offense.